The Senate Committee on Customs, Exercise and Tariff has commenced investigation into the more than N30 trillion fraud allegedly carried out in the import, export value chain between 2006 and 2017.
The Chairman of the committee, Hope Uzodinma, made this known at an investigative meeting with some of the commercial banks, alleged to be accomplices in the fraud.
The chairman said the committee would do everything possible to ensure that the mandate given to it by the Upper Chamber to recover and block leakages would be carried out to the latter.
“You recall Senate in plenary mandated this committee to investigate and identify areas of revenue leakages in the entire import and export circle.
“The committee has started investigation. We took time to enter into the import and export value chain and we have been able to identify areas of leakages and malpractices.
“This is ranging from unutilised Form Ms, abandoned Form Ms, partially abandoned Form Ms, abandoned assessment of Customs Duties and foreign exchange allocation manipulation.
“We have been able to go into the database of the operating system of Nigeria Customs Service otherwise called ASCODA.
“We identified Form M by Form M, import by import, vessel by vessel, liabilities of importers and commercial banks that are yet to be handled.
“We are talking about monies in regions of over 30 trillion and we have been able to give all these information to the various commercial banks that purchase foreign exchange on behalf of the importers.
“We met with the banks today and asked them to go home and come back in three weeks to show us evidence of utilization of the forex.
“Failure of which they will be compelled to refund those foreign exchange they bought from Central Bank or Inter Bank to be used for import,’’ he said.
He stressed that the amount of foreign exchange given to commercial banks and importers by the Federal Government for importation was not utilised as agreed.
According to him, the fraudulent act has led to scarcity of foreign exchange in the market, while the foreign exchange conceded to importers are not tied to activities of importation.
He noted that the development was unhealthy, adding that it had led to some Asian countries round tripping and sending monies out of the country without due process.
The chairman lamented that the practice had contributed to high exchange rate in the country over time.
“I am sure by the time we conclude this investigation and action plan is drawn, the exchange rate will come down drastically because only genuine importers will now enjoy government forex allocation.
“All commercial banks in the country are accomplices in this matter. They are all involved both the ones that are dead and the ones living.
“The ones that are no more operating were acquired by some banks. So, the activities of those that are no longer in operation are tied to those that acquired them as part of the liabilities.”
He said banks were part of the investigation because they were fully aware of the regulations when dealing with importers.
He pointed out that the foreign exchange utilisation manual prepared by CBN was a regulation guiding import and export, which entrusted commercial banks with the responsibility when purchasing money on behalf of importers.
He said that “under the Agency Statute, once you are acting on behalf of somebody the offence or the inaction of that person is your own inaction.
“By the time the banks carry out know your customer programme they know the address of these importers.
“They are also the ones that opened Form M for the importers, purchased foreign exchange for them and the regulation requires them to monitor to ensure that importers pay the correct customs duty on importation.
“It is the responsibility of the banks to know and confirm that the documents sent that would warrant the release of forex is genuine. It is contained in the manual.
“If we do things right, this country will get it right and irrespective of where you come from we will become the Giant of Africa which God created us to be.
The lawmaker further said that the committee had interfaced with shipping companies in this regard.
He said the committee was able to identify the infractions caused by the shipping companies and mandated Shippers Council that regulate their activities to follow through.
He stressed that what the committee was doing was not only a probe but a way to ensure that all relevant stakeholders worked together to help in the economic recovery process.
He said, “I can tell you that if government takes this very seriously, and all these potholes are blocked, government will move forward.