Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) is yet to make progress one year after obtaining a court search warrant to investigate Mapeto Wholesalers for allegedly undervaluing imports from China purportedly to evade tax.
The public tax collector has since attributed the delay to Covid-19 while Mapeto Wholesalers claims to have no case with MRA. The trader claimed in an interview that the consignment in question was long released.
In a telephone interview last week, MRA head of corporate affairs Steve Kapoloma admitted that the case had delayed, but said the travel restrictions as a coronavirus precautionary measure was an impediment because MRA officials were expected to travel to China to verify the actual price of the import.
“The issue to do with Mapeto was an issue to do with tyres. They brought tyres and we suspected that the declaration was not correct. As MRA, we were of the view that the value was lower than the actual value. So, we seized the containers and everything,” he said.
Kapoloma said the search warrant was meant to allow them access bank documents on payments. He said NBS Bank obliged and presented the documents to the public tax collector.
He said: “There was not much difference between those documents and the documents that were provided to us and we were still keen that there was serious undervaluation and we continued engaging government on how best we can get documents to satisfy our clearance.”
When contacted, NBS Bank head of legal services Felister Dossi refused to comment, citing bank-client confidentiality.
But Kapoloma indicated that the next option after the bank allegedly proved unhelpful was to engage the Malawi Embassy in China through Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to enable MRA officials to travel to China for verification, but Covid-19 stood in the way.
He insisted that the consignment from Mapeto Wholesalers was still in MRA’s custody.
But in a telephone interview, one of the directors of Mapeto Wholesalers, Faizal Latif, the addressee of the court-ordered search warrant, said there was no issue with MRA regarding the alleged undervaluation of tyres.
“For your information they [MRA] have already released our consignment,” he said before asking for a written questionnaire.
In August 2019, MRA obtained a search warrant from the Blantyre Magistrate’s Court to investigate Mapeto Wholesalers.
The search warrant, dated August 14 and classified as criminal case 277, also authorised MRA officers to search NBS Bank premises and take possession of documents tendered in court.
Reads the warrant in part: “It has been proved on oath to this court that all import document being bills of payment entry, exchange control documents, foreign currency transactions documents, bank statements and other documents in respect of which an offence of evasion of custom duties has been committed under the Customs and Excise Act or which are necessary to the investigation into such offences, are in fact , or according to reasonable suspicion , in the custody and premises of NBS Bank at head office.”