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Customs brushes off claims of tax evasion at Beirut Port

Customs department says revenues from tariffs has actually jumped from 2002 to 2010 The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakier

BEIRUT: The Customs department Friday refuted claims that tax evasion at Beirut Port was rampant, adding the revenues from tariffs from 2002 to 2010 have surged by 212 percent.

In a statement issued by the Finance Ministry, which is in charge of Customs, officials described the recent allegations against the port and other facilities as political and media maneuvering.

“According to our official statistics, revenues from tariffs from 2002 to 2010 jumped by 212 percent to $3.462 billion,” the statement added.

But the statement admitted that the proceeds in 2011 fell by 11.7 percent to reach $3.024 billion.

The Customs department attributed this fall to the decision of the government of then Prime Minister Saad Hariri to slash taxes on every 20 liters of gasoline by LL5,000 in the beginning of 2011, causing revenues to drop by $326 million.

Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi estimated the losses resulting from tax evasion at the port at more than $1.5 billion a year.

He added that some employees at the port are collaborating with supplies, shipping companies and clearance offices to smuggle many imported goods without passing through the regular customs procedures.

Other leading business figures also joined the campaign against the customs department by insisting that nearly 40 percent of the imported goods pass through the customs without paying tariffs.

Other independent sources acknowledged this tax evasion at the port but denied that the value of this waste is substantial or has an effect on the total revenues of the state.

The Customs also said that the other reason behind the decline in the revenues from customs was the drop in the imports of used cars due to the new safety measures imposed by the government and this has deprived the treasury of additional $175 million a year.

It also rejected allegations that some staff at the port is taking bribes to allow imported commodities enter the country without paying any tax.

“The clearance of all the cargoes goes through different and complicated procedures and there are many parties which inspect and search any imported item before it exit the port,” the statement explained.

It ridiculed the argument which says that the revenues from the customs should reach more than $4 billion a year if tax evasion was stamped out.

“Some parties resort to bizarre accusations which are not based on scientific facts. All our figures have been substantiated by the concerned authorities,” the statement claimed.

It warned that these accusations will smear the image of Lebanon.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 24, 2012, on page 4.

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