Customs hammers rice importers over N23.6bn debt


…Seals Stallion, Olam premises

By Uche Usim

Operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) yesterday, sealed the business premises of Stallion/Popular Foods/Masco Agro and Olam premises in a daring move to recover over N23.6 billion owed it by four rice importers. The other debtor companies are Milan Nigeria Limited (Conti-Agro) and Ebony Agro, which will suffer the same fate. Their premises were yet to be closed as at the time of filing this report.

Spokesman of NCS, Wale Adeniyi, said the service had explored various avenues to ensure the debtors paid up without success.  He stressed that the affected companies will no longer be allowed to discharge their imports in any port in Nigeria, adding that the defaulters and their associated companies have been blocked from the Customs imports system where they ought to be doing declaration.

“All these will be done preparatory to instituting full legal proceedings to compel them to pay what they owe Nigeria when the courts are back from recess,” he said. It was learnt that three commercial banks, GTB, Fidelity and Diamond, have been suspended by the NCS from collecting Customs duties over their non-compliance with the partnership agreement with the agency on the matter.

Adeniyi also said the aforementioned companies imported a combined excess of 750,253,003 metric tonnes of rice in 2014. According to him, the rice importers enjoyed preferential duty rates and levy last year. “They were the beneficiaries of rice import quota policy, which specified a preferential duty rate of 10 per cent and levy of 20 per cent of their imports. The policy was anchored on the need to fill the national rice sufficiency gap in line with stipulated quotas allotted to beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries were also rice millers who have invested in the sector and created employment in the value chain. Also, quantity imported in excess of approved quotas will be subjected to the extant rate of 10 per cent duty and 60 per cent levy,” he explained.

The Customs spokesman further noted that many of the defaulters had earlier been notified of their debt but did nothing about it.

“We wrote the affected importers severally to notify them of the duty liability at the normal rate if they exceeded their quotas and we also published many notices in national newspapers where their outstanding payments were mentioned and ultimatum given. However, there were lots of interventions and clarifications required to establish firmly our case against the importers. In some cases, some of them claimed they needed to reconcile figures with the Ministry of Agriculture,” he stated.

Olam reportedly owes N4,998,125,665.86 as a result of having exceeded its authorised allotted rice import quota by 149,469.51 metric tonnes; the Stallion Group on its part owes N17,187,245,022.96 for importing in excess 529,517.33 MT beyond the allotted quota; the Ebony Agro allegedly owes N328,201,440 with excess of 10,070 MT, while the Conti Agro Milan owes N1,089,907,273.62, for exceeding import quota by 61,178.19 MT of rice.

At the premises of Olam and Stallion, staff of the companies showed no resistance, thus allowing the Customs operatives to seamlessly seal up their premises.

Source : SunOnline

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