CHATTOGRAM: Chattogram Customs House has cancelled the licence of C&F Agent ‘Sunshine Agency’ for its involvement in the release of substandard imported bitumen on a forged quality certificate.
The importer of the bitumen ‘National Development Engineers Limited’ of Dhaka was also fined Tk 5 million (Tk 50 lakh) for the forgery committed to release the bitumen from the port.
The investigation report was submitted to the Commissioner's Office on August 8 and the order was issued by the commissioner after the importer admitted to the fraud.
Customs Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said the licence of the responsible C&F agent has been cancelled based on the recommendations of the investigation committee.
The importer was also issued a show-cause notice and given a chance for a hearing. After admitting the guilt, the importer was fined Tk 50 lakh, said the customs commissioner.
The importer, however, filed a writ petition with the High Court (HC), which ordered to re-examine bitumen at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI).
According to the law, there is a scope to test the quality of imported bitumen from three institutions. Now, the decision regarding the release of the seized bitumen will be taken after receiving the reports from those two institutions, he said.
The first standard test of imported bitumen of importers ‘Jahangir and Others, and ‘Hasan Construction’ were conducted at the ERL. After the samples did not pass the test, those were sent to BSTI and BUET for re-examination.
The second test report has been submitted to the Customs. The report of tests at the BSTI and BUET also came negative, said the sources.
Now the importers are adopting different strategies to release the substandard bitumen through filing writ petitions with the High Court.
Earlier a consignment of imported bitumen was seized by the Customs while releasing through a forged quality certificate. The importer ‘National Development Engineers Limited’ submitted the fake certificate for releasing 10,000 tonnes of bitumen.
After paying a duty of Tk 72 lakh, a total of nine containers, out of 50, were released on June 28. The fraudulence was detected while the customs officials verified the standard certificate after receiving a complaint.
Later, the entire consignment of 50 containers was seized and the released containers were brought back.
Jahedul Islam, Head of Quality Control of the ERL, said the image of the ERL has been tarnished through the fraudulence.
He said, ‘Our quality testing device is fully automatic and modern.”
“It takes two hours to prepare the samples for test, but it takes four to five minutes to test it on the machine. And we do the bitumen testing ourselves,” said Jahedul.
“The device is so modern that there is no scope of manipulation. So our image has been tarnished through forging the standard certificate generated by our institution,” he said.
The officer also demanded stern punishment of the people responsible for the forgery.
Meanwhile, there are allegations of pressurizing the Customs Commissioner by various quarters to release the low-quality imported bitumen.
There is lobbying by politicians to influence the higher levels of the administration to help release the seized consignment.
Customs Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said there is nothing to do about the pressure as he has no scope to go beyond the law.
There has been an allegation of importing substandard bitumen for long. The quality test of the imported bitumen was not mandatory. As a result, substandard bitumen was being imported regularly.
Consequently, the government has been spending thousands of crores of taka on road maintenance and repair.
Later on May 25 this year, the Commerce Ministry made quality testing of imported bitumen at three laboratories mandatory. The new rule has put the forging syndicate in great trouble.
The first consignment of imported bitumen was seized in June after making the test mandatory.
After failing to pass the quality test, the importer attempted to release the bitumen by submitting a fake standard certificate with a fake signature and pad of the ERL.
The three-member committee headed by Additional Commissioner Mohammad Shafiuddin was formed to investigate the matter.
The investigation committee found evidence of fraudulence by the C&F agent ‘Sunshine Agency.’
The committee took the help of the CID experts to ascertain whether the signature of the ERL officer was fake. The CID scrutinised and confirmed the signature as fake.
The entire fraudulence was led by C&F Agent ‘Sunshine Agency,’ said the sources.
When asked about the cancellation of the licence, Sunshine Agency owner Mahmud Reza said, "Who gives you such information? I'm still working with the licence.”
Asked about their involvement in faking the standard certificate, he avoided the issue and asked to talk to the importer about these.
“We released the goods according to the documents given by the importer. If there is anything outside of this, the importer will know,” he added.
Two large consignments of bitumen reached the port
The import of low-quality bitumen has increased suddenly. It has been alleged that some companies in Chattogram have imported low-quality bitumen.
An Iranian-flagged cargo vessel named ‘MV Nigar’ anchored at Jetty No. 9 of the Chattogram Port. It carries 262 containers of bitumen of importers ‘Jahangir & Others, and ‘Hasan Construction’ of Chattogram.
Besides, PHP Spinning Mill Limited also imported 5,338 tonnes of liquid bitumen in another ship named ‘MT YLW.’
Customs officials said PHP Spinning Mill has submitted the bill of entry for the release of the goods. However, importers Jahangir & Others, and Hasan Construction are yet to submit their bills of entry.