In December last year, the Chattogram Customs House seized fake cigarette band rolls or tax stamps worth around Tk230 crore in two consignments of offset papers brought in from China by two Chattogram-based shell companies.
Following the seizure, the customs authorities in an investigation found that the racket had earlier taken the release of 13 such consignments.
According to customs officials, the entry of the stamps, usually used in cigarette packets, has caused the government to count a loss of at least Tk1,000 crore in revenue.
As per the rules set by the National Board of Revenue (NBR), companies must collect band rolls from the Security Printing Corporation (Bangladesh) Ltd, which is the main printer of government stamps in Bangladesh.
The revenue board earns from stamp sales and, as a result, there is no scope to purchase or import such items from any organisation other than SPCL.
Modhumati Associates Ltd, the lone clearing and forwarding agent engaged in bringing in goods from the same Chinese company by Bappu Enterprise and Arafat Enterprise, has shut down its website after the shipment was seized.
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The Chinese exporter, Digi Anti-Fake (Shenzhen) Co Ltd, from where the consignments came has also taken its website down.
Sharfuddin Miah, a deputy commissioner at the Audit Investigation and Research (AIR) Section of the Chattogram Customs House, told The Asian Tribune, “These released band rolls may be available on packets of currently marketed cigarettes or in the possession of importers and cigarette dealers.”
The customs authorities filed two separate cases against Bappu Enterprise and Arafat Enterprise on 16 December and on 23 December, respectively, with the Bandar Police Station in connection with the band rolls seizure.
In a letter to the NBR chairman on 4 January, Chattogram Customs House Commissioner M Fakhrul Alam said it is necessary to verify samples after collecting them from the depots of dealers, retailers and suspicious companies in the respective districts.
“Immediately before the stock of imported counterfeit band rolls runs out, it is possible to collect suspicious samples from the depots of the respective district dealers, retailers and suspicious companies and test them from the SPCL to find out which companies are involved in stamp forgery,” it added.
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The letter also mentioned that the matter needs to be reviewed by VAT detectives, customs intelligence and the VAT Commissionerates to determine what to do to prevent such fraud.
The customs authorities have formed a five-member committee headed by Md Shahidul Islam, joint director at the VAT Audit, Intelligence and Investigation Directorate, to investigate the matter.
The committee has already asked for details of the bank accounts of the two companies.
Munawar Mursalin, a deputy director at the VAT Audit, Intelligence and Investigation Directorate and a member of the probe body, told The Asian Tribune, “We are investigating the bringing in of fake band rolls. We will find out which other organisations are involved in this circle.”
Md Jahedul Kabir, officer-in-charge at the Bandar Police Station, said the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was investigating the two cases.
Shahnewaz Khaled, Chattogram Metropolitan Superintendent of Police (SP) of CID, said, “We are collecting various documents and attempts are being made to arrest those involved in the incident.”
The official address of Bappu Enterprise has been mentioned to be in the GA Bhaban of Anderkilla in the port city. However, no organisation in this name was found at the address.
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Abul Kalam Azad, president of GA Bhaban businessmen’s welfare association, said there was no organisation called Bappu Enterprise in the building.
The address of another importer, Arafat Enterprise, has been mentioned as being in Quader Tower in the Jubilee Road area of Chattogram city.
Bappu Barua and Mohammad Arafat Hossain, owners of the two importing companies, could not be reached on their phones.
During multiple calls, the number of Md Elias, managing director of Modhumati Associates, taken from the C&F Agents Association’s website was found switched off.
On 14 December, the customs authorities seized the consignment of Bappu Enterprise at the Chattogram port.
Just a week later, on 22 December, Customs found fake band rolls in a consignment of offset papers brought in by Arafat Enterprise from China.