ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 52
Financial Times  

Amidst attempts to halt the investigation …

Customs forging ahead with Distilleries Co probe

By Natasha Gunaratne

Officials at the Customs Department say they are forging ahead with their investigation into alleged fraud by the Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka (DCSL) despite threats they have received in an effort to halt the probe. These officials lament the fact that they are not being provided with adequate security and that the Director General of the Customs. Department and the Ministry of Finance are taking no interest in the ongoing investigations.

They feel the nature and the magnitude of this particular investigation warrants extra protection to be granted to them from relevant authorities. Despite these grievances, they said they will continue with the probe and are confident they will be able to resolve the case.

Periceyl (Private) Ltd, a jointly controlled entity of DCSL is being investigated for allegedly importing shipments of alcohol under false customs classifications by declaring alcohol as ethyl alcohol, thereby paying far less in customs duty. A shipment arrived in Sri Lanka at the end of April 2007 and Customs Department officials were on hand to obtain samples directly from the consignments for analysis.

The samples were sent to the Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) for analysis in lieu of being sent to the Government Analyst, Gamini Somapala because Customs officials feared they might be tampered with. Somapala spoke to The Sunday Times FT and said his department would never do anything of that nature. "I don't do anything illegal and I have never done anything illegal," he said. He also said that it is up to the Customs Department to decide on where the samples should be sent for analysis.

Customs officials also expressed frustration at the lack of attention by the Ministry of Finance and heads at the Customs Department. "They should come forward and take some interest in the case," one officer said."This is a massive fraud and involved millions and millions of rupees to the government. This is not a normal case. If you are the chief of the department or institute, you should know what is happening, how the losses are going to be recovered, progress that has to be made and how we are going to achieve our target."

Director General of the Customs, S. Jayathileke was contacted about the status of the case and said there were no new developments to report on. He did not answer when asked if he has personally called for briefings from customs officers on the ongoing DCSL investigation but said in general, he is kept updated from officers on cases or calls for updates himself.

The Herbal Technology Division at the ITI confirmed to The Sunday Times FT that it has received the DCSL samples from the consignments and that the analysis has been completed. The final report should be issued by next week. The paper was told that theCustoms Department doesn’t have an adequate chemical laboratory so in certain cases, samples are sent to the ITI.

The Herbal Technology Division specializes in the analysis of essential oil characterizations, alcohol and other spirits. In some instances, samples are sent to both the government analyst as well as the ITI for comparison. An independent body, the ITI sometimes receives requests for analysis of samples from the Customs Department as well as from individuals or companies under investigation.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.