High Court finds GRA wrongfully classified Land Cruiser

(From top left: Businessman Mohamed Shaw Jahan and his Attorney-at-law Siand Dhurjon. Bottom: The businessman’s 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser)

High Court Judge Damone Younge has found that the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) wrongfully classified a 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser as a passenger vehicle. The incorrect classification would have resulted in businessman Mohamed Shaw Jahan paying nearly $14 million in taxes and duties.

The ruling was delivered on Thursday at the Demerara High Court. Justice Younge, who went to the John Fernandes Terminal herself to inspect the vehicle, declared a goods vehicle that fell under tariff heading 8704, requiring Jahan to pay only $1,871,457 in taxes and duties to have it cleared.

The Judge further issued an order of mandamus compelling the GRA and its Commissioner-General Godfrey Statia to forthwith classify the vehicle as a goods vehicle and to accept the $1,871,457 in taxes and duties that have already paid within seven days.

Justice Younge further ordered GRA to take all steps necessary to release the vehicle as soon as practicable and to reimbursed Jahan for the costs of storing the vehicle at the Terminal. The Court also ordered GRA to stand the costs of the businessman’s lawsuit which was filed in March 2020.

The vehicle arrived in Guyana from the United Kingdom on December 20, 2020. At the time the vehicle was purchased it was classified as a ‘light goods vehicle’, and as such Jahan’s lawyer, Siand Dhurjon submitted that his client should only pay $1.8 million in taxes and duties.

In court documents seen by this publication, Dhurjon outlined that the GRA was insisting that the Land Cruiser is a passenger vehicle and was demanding that this client pay about $13,890,384 to have it cleared.

The lawyer said that because the vehicle is a special model which only has two seats, two doors, two ventilating windows, a flatbed cargo area to the rear, and a barrier between the cargo area and the driver area, it is “exclusively qualified to be a goods vehicle”.

Following Justice Younge’s ruling, Dhurjon said, “This is believed to be the first case of its kind in Guyana. The learned judge came to her determination after a very thorough and exhaustive survey on tariffs and classification laws. The learned judge went to the extent of physically viewing the vehicle in person before arriving at her decision.”

The lawyer in an invited comment added, “The GRA condemned themselves when they admitted the GRA has no written policy, guidelines, or information available from their office on what features/criteria they would accept or deny to classify a vehicle as a goods vehicle.”

According to counsel, different employees of the GRA would give contradictory information on what they would and would not accept as a goods vehicle as opposed to a passenger vehicle.

The lawyer revealed that Statia, through his lawyers, submitted that the presence of two receptacles in which cups could be placed and what they called ‘sports rims’ on the vehicle indicated that the vehicle was a passenger vehicle.

From the outset, Dhurjon maintained that any classification of the vehicle as a passenger vehicle would be an erroneous misclassification and a misapprehension of the Common External Tariff found in Schedule 1 of the Customs Act,  the Harmonised System Classification Codes, and the World Customs Organisation’s Explanatory Notes on the issue.