Customs damage Kosovo’s budget
Prishtina, 6 February 2004 - In a leading front-page article, Koha Ditore reports that a scandalous affair by the officials of UNMIK Customs Service has come to the surface. The paper claims that John Robertson, one of the officials of UNMIK Customs Service, has violated the law by reaching an agreement with tobacco importers, under which even after the increase in excise from 6 to 10 euros, they would still import tobacco according to the old excise rate of 6 euros.
‘This senior official of UNMIK Customs, several hours before the new excise rate of 10 euros came into force, reached an agreement with tobacco importers to get the money from them and to enable the import of around 2,000 tons (six months consumption in Kosovo) of tobacco according to the old excise rates,’ added the paper.
‘Had this not been done, the Kosovo budget would be richer by 10 million Euros because an excise of 10 Euros will be paid for the imported cigarettes and not the old duty of 6 Euros, as is the case,’ writes Koha Ditore.
Quoting their sources, Koha Ditore claims the scandal could be much bigger and that the same was done each time excise duty was increased.
Koha Ditore further claims that according to the Customs law in force, payments for goods must be made when the goods cross the border. ‘The obligation to pay customs duties arises the moment the goods cross the border and customs duties which are in force the day the goods cross the border are applicable,’ says the Customs Law of 1992, which is effective till the end of February, when it will be replaced by the new Customs Code signed last Friday by SRSG Holkeri.
The main person, John Robertson did not make any comment on the issue. ‘Talk to Pillar IV officials,’ Robertson said.
Paul Acda, General Director of Customs Service, while presenting the new Customs Code in a press conference, said that based on tobacco import regulation each importer can pay the excise and other duties in advance ‘though the opposite is stated in the law’, claims Koha Ditore.
Acda further said that there is nothing wrong if someone has paid the duties prior to 1 October and imports the goods, in this case cigarettes, after this date. ‘This is supported by the Regulation,’ said Acda. The paper added that he did not give any names of potential tobacco importers but only stated that there was nothing wrong with such actions.
One of the largest importers, Ekrem Lluka did not make any comments on the issue. However, quoting its sources Koha Ditore said that Lluka has also signed the agreement. Another importer, Besim Govori, owner of Kosova Tobacco, acknowledged the existence of such an agreement, reported Koha Ditore.
Koha Ditore further reported that according to their sources though it has been three months since the new excise became applicable, only 200 tons of cigarettes or only 10% of the contracted cigarettes have entered Kosovo.
‘The cigarettes with the old customs duty will continue to enter Kosovo during this year,’ a cigarette importer told the paper, but did not want to be identified because he feared repercussions from Robertson, claims Koha Ditore.
‘Since his arrival in the Customs Service, Robertson has had major disagreements with the local staff. At certain times he intervened and asked for certain actions to be taken that were in violation of the law,’ added Koha Ditore.