Chief Justice orders GRA to release over $80M worth of diesel seized from Van West-Charles fuel company  

GRA and GEA to pay Van-West $12M for unlawfully seizing his fuel

Chief Justice Roxane George, SC, has ordered the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to immediately release over $80 million in diesel sized from Atlantic Fuels Inc., (AFI) which is owned by Dr. Richard Van West-Charles, former CEO of the Guyana Water Incorporation.

The two agencies seized and detained the 635, 353 litres of diesel sometime back, after it was alleged that the fuel company tendered falsified invoices to GRA.

On November 01, 2020, AFI imported the diesel fuel into Guyana on MV Ms. Robin. In a letter to the company, GEA said that investigations had revealed that the fuel was purchased from Staatsolie, a Surinamese company, as opposed to Global Oil, which GEA says was represented to it by AFI. As a result, the fuel was seized and detained.

AFI’s lawyers Siand Dhurjon and Damien Da Silva then filed an action in the High Court against the Commissioner General of GRA, Godfrey Statia and Chief Executive Officer of GEA, Mahender Sharma. In the action, AFI disputed making the alleged false declaration and argued that even if a false declaration was made, that does not permit the detention of the fuel.

According to Dhurjon, lawyers for Sharma and Statia presented to the Court an alleged false invoice used by AFI to import the fuel which they claimed gave the GEA and GRA wrong information on the supplier, value and quantity of the fuel. Dhurjon said that GRA submitted that the “full and applicable taxes could not have been determined and that the release of the fuel would cause ‘significant losses of revenue’ to the Government.

Moreover, Dhurjon said that Sharma told the Court that he had the power to refuse to mark the fuel because the fuel was not lawfully imported and because he held the view that AFI was not the ‘true importer’ of the fuel. Sharma, according to Dhurjon, claimed that AFI was merely facilitating the importation of the fuel for another company Clean Energy Guyana Inc.

Sharma claimed that AFI acted in breach of Petroleum Regulations 2014 when it imported the fuel by way of a false declaration,” the lawyer added. Dhurjon stated that Sharma further told the Court that the company in Suriname from which AFI claimed they purchased the fuel had sent a letter saying that it never transacted business with the company.

As a result, both Sharma and Statia submitted that their respective agencies had the power to seize and detained the fuel.

In the end, the Chief Justice agreed with the submissions by AFI’s lawyers that “the GEA and GRA had no power under law to hinder or impede the importation of the fuel.”

In the circumstances, Justice George issued two orders of mandamus- one ordering GEA to mark the fuel and another ordering the GRA to release the fuel since over $20,000,000 in taxes and fees were already paid by AFI.

According to Dhurjon, “The Chief Justice declared that the fuel was the property of AFI and that Statia and Sharma had acted illegally and unconstitutionally in their actions to prevent the marking and clearance of the fuel so that AFI could successfully import the fuel.”

The Chief Justice, Dhurjon informed, further ordered that the hefty storage costs which AFI now owes to the ‘Falls’ Gas Station storage facility owned by China Zhonghao Inc. at Land of Canaan, East Bank Demerara are to be paid by Statia and Sharma.

Dhurjon told this publication, “the storage charges that Statia and Sharma will have to pay have to be enlarged greatly to about $15,000,000.

The matter has been adjourned to March 08, 2021 at 1:30pm to confirm the full amount of storage costs for which Statia and Sharma will be liable. Dhurjon explained that this is because when the proceedings were filed in December 2020AFI had owed about $4,528,678 in storage costs.

Dhurjon in an invited comment said that “Atlantic Fuels Inc has held the heads of the GRA and GEA accountable for their unconstitutional deprivation of its property. For as long as the rule of law exists in this land actions like those of the GRA and GEA will not be tolerated.”

Dhurjon said, too, that they had argued constitutional principles relating to the fundamental right to hold property to free the fuel from the hands of the GRA and GEA. He remarked that had the Commissioner General successfully been able to seize and detain the fuel it is likely that he would have had the fuel auctioned and given to the highest bidder.

In the meantime, one of AFI’s Director Eugene Gilbert was in early January charged in relation to the alleged false declaration to GRA.

Gilbert pleaded not guilty to the charge which stated that on November 12, 2020, at GRA’s 200-201 Camp Street, Georgetown, headquarters, he caused to be made and subscribed a false declaration, that is invoice number 100 for customs declaration reference number GY 410C.

Gilbert was released on $300,000 bail and ordered to return to the Georgetown Magistrates’ sometime in March to collect statements for the trial to begin.