Mumbai: An alleged extortion racket run by certain senior customs officers allegedly forcing importers and Customs House Clearing Agents (CHAs) of consumer items to pay ₹5 per kg every week for import clearance of mobile accessories, ready made garments, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and restricted chemicals has been unearthed.
The alleged extortion demand for not raising objections and clearing consignments in the import shed of the air cargo complex is done by collection agents on behalf of certain customs officers.
According to recordings and diary entries of importers accessed by the Free Press Journal, top customs officers demand ₹5 per kg each for clearing every import consignment and about 300 metric tonne of import consignment is cleared every month at Mumbai Air Cargo. “A corrupt senior top officer takes home ₹15 lakh while certain group B officers make ₹8-10 lakhs monthly,” revealed a beleaguered importer forced to make payments for clearance of his mobile accessories consignment which was not cleared on “frivolous grounds."
Spotlight on top ranking officers
Confidential documents accessed by The Free Press Journal have several top names including those connected to the intelligence and investigation branches, including Mumbai Air Cargo Customs Commissioner (general) Nilank Kumar who is brother in law of former CBI chief Anil Kumar SInha, Additional Customs Commissioner (Import Shed) Davinder Rana, Customs
A month-long investigation done by the Free Press Journal revealed the intricate role of a private individual who is called SM who had free access in the highly restricted air cargo complex meeting top customs officials using the entry pass issued in the name of a Logistics company threatening importers for payments. He threatened a group of CHA for additional payment of ₹10 per kg which was objected to by the importers citing the already high payments made every week to corrupt customs officials in the air cargo complex.
“I don’t have time to do any collection for customs officers. My own logistic business is expanding and have no connection with any extortion racket in the import shed of Mumbai air cargo complex,” SM claimed.
Threat to importers
SM allegedly at the behest of a Customs appraiser threatened that their import cargo would be held back if ₹10 per kg of consignment was not paid every week.
When contacted Mr Nilank Kumar, air cargo customs commissioner (general), denied harassment of CHAs and importers and said, “My office is intolerant to any act of harassment to trade and complaints of corruption are immediately acted upon wherever required. The complaints made by CHA and importers are already being enquired and proper action will be taken against anyone if required.”
Customs Commissioner (imports) Shiril Saroj confirmed that an inquiry has been ordered into allegations of harassment of importers. “A Customs appraiser posted in the Customs Intelligence Unit was transferred for allegedly leading the extortion racket but senior IRS officers named in the complaint were spared citing insufficient evidence,” complained a customs officer posted at air cargo complex about being made scapegoats by the powerful IRS lobby.
Restricted chemicals mis-declared as Lab Chemicals
Another importer alleged that restricted chemicals with high custom levies used in the pharma industry were deliberately mis-declared as Lab Chemicals without Central Insecticide Board registration cleared by customs officials causing a huge loss of revenue into several crores every month.
Additional Customs Commissioner (Import Shed) Davinder Rana and customs appraiser Gyaan Prakash did not respond to calls and messages for comments.
Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) governing the IRS officers posted in customs aware of the massive extortion rackets has ordered a crackdown on the errant customs officials and zero tolerance on harassment of traders and importers following directives from Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance.