Sri Lanka to trace ‘hundreds’ of missing duty free tsunami relief vehicles

EconomyNext – Sri Lanka’s finance ministry said a probe into a United Nations agency gifting luxury duty-free vehicles to a charity connected to ousted former president Mahinda Rajapakse has been broadened as “hundreds” of vehicles are believed to be involved.

Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has initiated an inquiry into the import of  high-value vehicles for tsunami relief and subsequently given to third parties without paying due taxes and depriving the state of billions of rupees, a statement said.

Karunanayake has instructed Director General of Customs R Semasinghe to find out how many such vehicles had been imported on duty free basis to carry out emergency relief operations, but have ended up in private hands depriving the state of due revenue.

“It is believed that hundreds of vehicles had been imported duty free and most of them have disappeared and efforts will be made to trace them and recover the revenue that is due to the state,” the statement said.

“This was brought to light when a vehicle imported for a UN agency to carry out tsunami relief work in 2005 was involved in an accident on June 10, 2015. The vehicle had been used illegally, violating Sri Lankan laws.”

The government said earlier that the World Food Program is being investigated in Sri Lanka for gifting the luxury sports utility vehicle to a charity headed by former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s wife.

Police said an investigation into the accident revealed that it was one of two SUVs to be given as a "donation" by the UN agency to Shiranthi Rajapakse’s Siriliya Saviya Foundation and that neither party had paid import taxes which can be up to 350 percent.

The finance ministry statement said Karunanayake has instructed the Customs to find out how a vehicle imported by the World Food Program ended up with a third party without paying customs duties.

“The minister has also directed the Customs chief to cause an internal investigation to find out of there had been any lapses on the part of the Sri Lanka Customs in allowing the UN agency to transfer the possession of vehicles imported duty free into the country and not taking action for over three years to recover taxes due to the state.”

The legality of the “gift” by the WFP is also to be investigated. Sri Lanka Customs will also work closely with the police who are having a separate investigation, it said.

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 (Colombo/July 08, 2015)
 

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