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The Killid Group, July 19, 2014

Customs lose millions to corruption

The roots of corruption have penetrated the office of the governor and judiciary

By Shuaib Tanha Shukran & Hamed Kohistani

A Killid investigation reveals there is a mindboggling 30 to 80 percent corruption in customs in the western provinces. Millions of dollars are being embezzled, and jobs in customs offices are sold for between 10,000 and 100,000 USD.

Mohammad Taher Anbari, the head of the counter corruption (administration) west, says 12 customs officials in Herat, Farah and Nimroz were arrested last year on charges of taking bribes. Four of those from Farah were caught red-handed accepting more than 2 million Afs (34,700 USD) as bribe for five trucks stuffed with goods but taxed for only 50 percent. According to Anbari, corrupt customs officials cheat the government of as much money as is collected at the border. The amount of money that changes hands under the table may be about 40 million Afs (694,000 USD) daily, he thinks.

Intelligence agency officials think corruption has grown in Farah and Nimroz. General Abdul Samad, the former head of the Directorate of National Security in Nimroz, calculates 80 percent of customs officials are corrupt in the two provinces. Farah has earned the reputation of the most corrupt custom department in the west.

The roots of corruption have penetrated the office of the governor and judiciary, according to Samad. As a result intelligence officials have failed to press charges.

The Governor of Farah, Mohammad Omar Sherzad, rejects the allegations of any type of support from his office to corrupt officers in Farah customs. He says that the allegations against him are without evidence, and if anyone provides proof he would respond. He told Killid rooting out corruption in customs was on his agenda, and he would stop the abuse and bribe-taking by officials.

Meanwhile, Farah customs officials admit to corruption but not to the extent shown by our reports. Acting head of Customs in the province, Nesar Ahmad Naseri, insists there was a 14 percent increase in revenue, more than what was targeted by the Ministry of Finance (MoF).

He says that in Sawr (April 21-May 21, 2014) the provincial customs office earned 306 million Afs (6.4 million USD), while the estimation of MoF was 291 million Afs (5 million USD).

However, traders importing goods through the Farah border say they pour in millions everyday into the pockets of corrupt officials. Bismillah, one of the traders who imports through Farah customs into Herat, says he prefers this roundabout way because checks are more rigorous in Herat and in Farah he can bribe officials to look the other way. He says that if customs duties on his goods are 5 million Afs (86,775 USD) he gets a receipt for only 500,000 Afs (8,675 USD) and the rest is spent on bribing officials. According to Bismillah, if he doesn’t give bribes to officers his work would not be done, and this is the way it is for all traders. He says customs fudges the books to enter goods from China as made in Japan and Korea, and enter a reduced tax amount.
The Killid Group, Jul. 19, 2014

However, traders importing goods through the Farah border say they pour in millions everyday into the pockets of corrupt officials. Bismillah, one of the traders who imports through Farah customs into Herat, says he prefers this roundabout way because checks are more rigorous in Herat and in Farah he can bribe officials to look the other way. He says that if customs duties on his goods are 5 million Afs (86,775 USD) he gets a receipt for only 500,000 Afs (8,675 USD) and the rest is spent on bribing officials. According to Bismillah, if he doesn’t give bribes to officers his work would not be done, and this is the way it is for all traders. He says customs fudges the books to enter goods from China as made in Japan and Korea, and enter a reduced tax amount.

Notwithstanding the claims of widespread corruption in Farah customs, the Attorney General's (AG) office in the province has received only four files regarding officials accused of corruption. Pir Jalaludin Mohammad, the AG for Farah, told Killid the dossiers have been reviewed and forwarded to the courts. He reveals the probe involves customs officers who were working in the tax branch for merchandise.

Nimroz customs also deny allegations of rampant corruption. Customs head Wais Sultani says revenue has almost doubled between 2012 and 2013 from 3.5 billion Afs (roughly 60 million USD) to 6 billion Afs (104 million USD). Sultani says earnings increased ever since they promised MoF to reform and root out corruption. According to him, three customs officials were dismissed, and one of their files - he is accused of taking a bribe - was sent to the AG's Office.

Deliberately complex

The industrialists association of Herat believes the customs offices in Afghanistan are controlled by mafia. The head of the association, Hamidullah Khadem, says the volume of bribes and commissions adds up to billions of Afghanis in the Herat and Islam Qala (on the border) customs offices with most of the money going to corrupt officials in the MoF. According to Khadem, the Herat customs office decreases the tax on imports when traders pay a bribe. For instance a trader may be importing many tens of tonnes of metal bars but he is taxed for some other cheaper goods. As a result Iranian goods are flooding the country through Herat, and ruining the economy, he says.

Two traders who did not want to be identified complained about the lengthy paper work at the customs office in Herat - a process that can be speeded up with bribes. Sometimes the imported goods are not to be found on the customs database and officials arbitrarily fix a tax amount. Often customs officials refuse to honour the purchasing bill the trader submits. Instead they are told to pay half of the tax value as bribe. "Whether the value of the goods is one Afghani or 10 Afs (1 USD is 57 Afs) the bribe is fixed at 50,000 Afs (867 USD)," says a trader.

Traders gave Killid photos to prove their allegations of corruption in Herat customs. There must be a law against corruption, they say, or smuggling will keep increasing.

Herat Governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi told Killid there was 30 percent corruption in the customs office. He claims it has come down because of his continuous efforts. He blames the corruption on "authorities in the central government". "The pressure from the central government has led to Ahmad Tamim Kakar (head of Herat customs) submitting his resignation many times. But I have not accepted it," says Wahidi.

Wahidi expresses helplessness about central government inspectors, who are sent to monitor customs offices, taking bribes. "The delegation leaves Herat without getting any results or submitting reports to the governor's office," he says.

Merit devalued

Killid sought a response from the MoF to the Herat governor's charge. MoF spokesperson Abdul Qader Jailani says delegations of inspectors, who get paid travel allowance, submit reports to the ministry. He insists the ministry has done its best to make customs departments work according to the law. He denies there is widespread corruption in the western zone. Jailani insists any officer, whether high or low ranking, found taking a bribe would be dismissed.

Jailani rejects reports of people paying huge bribes for jobs in customs offices. Most candidates are chosen according to merit and qualifications, he claims

Meanwhile, we tried to interview Tamim Kakar but he was in Turkey. His deputy Nasrullah Durani admitted only to a little corruption in Herat custom offices. This was because of the reforms made in the system, he claims. "For example we have introduced a system called Asikuda in Dari - when all computers are connected to a central machine. As a result when an item is recorded in Herat customs office, authorities in Kabul can see it. It is tamper proof, and effective in reducing corruption," he insists.

Durani also mentions there are 46 vacancies in the Herat customs offices, which he reiterates will be filled up on the basis of merit. He promises to take action should there be even a hint of corruption in the process.

An intelligence official speaking to Killid - he did not want his name published - says Herat customs are grossly overstaffed. Where there should be 30 jobs there are 66 employees, including at least three or four who are related to members of Parliament (MPs) from the western zone.

MP from Herat Ghulam Farooq Majroh admits his colleagues have abused their position by giving jobs to relatives and others.

The AG's Office in Herat insists the law is taking its course on administrative corruption. AG Azizullah Hejran says 40 files that were sent to his office have been forwarded to the courts after investigation. So far this year 10 files of corruption have been received including five from Islam Qala customs. According to Hejran, the corrupt officers have been punished. Government officials can receive sentences of between five and 15 years depending on the severity of the crime they have committed.

Category: Corruption - Views: 4185