BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) is investigating a number of car dealers suspected to be using underhand deals to import luxury cars in a scandal that might have cost the country millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.
Zimra believes at least 200 top of the range cars were illegally brought into the country in recent months.
A suspected syndicate involving the tax authority’s employees and car dealers is said to have taken advantage of Zimbabwe’s transition from the multi-currency system into the mono-currency regime to manipulate the customs clearance procedures.
Since the currency reforms began late last year, Zimra has been charging duty on certain imported cars in foreign currency, while commercial vehicles are charged in local currency.
The authority’s loss control department is said to have detected the scam recently where car dealers paid duty for luxury vehicles in local currency or understated their value.
“There are many cars that have been identified as not having been processed procedurally,” Zimra said in response to questions from standardbusiness concerning the scandal.
“The authority is still in the process of reconciling [the clearance of high value vehicles]. Our on-going and intensified crackdown on corruption has so far identified more than 200 high value motor vehicles.”
Zimra said it was not yet in a position to discuss in detail how the syndicate operated. The authority, however, said it was plugging loopholes in its manual systems.
“Investigations are on-going and because of them, the authority is reluctant to unpack the details of how the fraud was working,” Zimra added.
“We can, however, reveal that the syndicate, made up of various players, was taking advantage of a largely manual system.
“Zimra is, however, in the process of automating most of its processes in order to reduce incidents of a similar nature.
“The duty schedules are being compiled and will be available in due course. The revenue at stake will amount to millions of dollars.”
Zimra said all the vehicles that were imported illegally will be seized.
“As a matter of policy, Zimra’s plans and procedures in the fight against corruption include all irregularities, including but not limited to the improper clearance of motor vehicles,” the authority added.
“Already our investigations have unearthed the involvement of car sales dealers.”
A number of Zanu PF linked politicians and businesspeople have been importing luxury cars such as Lamborghinis.
The ruling party itself was allegedly investigated by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) after it benefited from a donation of luxury vehicles imported by businessmen with Zanu PF links, including a petroleum mogul in the run-up to last year’s elections.
Zacc was alerted that the businessmen did not pay any duty for the large fleet, but the investigation reached a dead end after Zanu PF rushed to pay the taxes only a couple of weeks ago.
Several Zimra officers were arrested at the Plumtree border post recently for their allegedly involvement in a syndicate that illegally imported over 50 vehicles without paying duty.
Smuggling at Zimbabwe’s points of entry is rife due to rampant corruption.