Businessman sues GRA over $14M duty charged on Land Cruiser

The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser that was imported by the businessman

An East Coast Demerara (ECD) businessman has filed a lawsuit against the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and its Commissioner General, Godfrey Statia for what he claims is the wrongful classification of a 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser which he imported from the United Kingdom.

Businessman Mohamed
Shaw Jahan

Mohamed Shaw Jahan, who operates an auto spares company and cattle ranch, is suing the tax agency over its classification of the vehicle for which he is being asked to pay nearly $14 million in taxes and duties. Since the vehicle arrived in Guyana on December 20, 2020, Jahan has been unable to clear it owing to the duties being demanded by the GRA.
As a result, the vehicle is being kept at the John Fernandes Terminal incurring storage costs. In court documents seen by Guyana Times, Jahan – through his lawyer, Siand Dhurjon – deposes that the vehicle was classified as a “light goods vehicle” at the time of its purchase back in October last year and should only attract around $1.8 million in duties.
But the GRA is insisting that the vehicle is a passenger vehicle and is demanding that the businessman pay 13,890,384 to have it cleared from the wharf.
Dhurjon said that because the Land Cruiser is a special model with only two seats, two doors, two ventilating windows, a flatbed cargo area to the rear, and a barrier between the cargo area and the driver area, it is “exclusively qualified to be a goods vehicle”.
The lawyer contends that any classification of the vehicle as a passenger vehicle would be an erroneous misclassification and a misapprehension of the Common External Tariff found in Schedule 1 of the Customs Act, the Harmonised System Classification Codes, and the World Customs Organisation’s Explanatory Notes on the issue.
In an affidavit in support of his claim, Jahan states, “when a vehicle is permitted to be registered as a goods vehicle, it is granted a very favourable tax treatment”.
Jahan, in the Affidavit, further explained that he requested to meet with Statia over the issue, but that meeting was never permitted.
Instead, he said that he was referred to another officer of the GRA who maintained the erroneous position that the vehicle was a passenger vehicle. “A Classification Committee of the GRA later sustained such a ruling in a vague letter sent to Mr Jahan,” the affidavit noted.
In the legal proceedings, Jahan argues that the GRA “has no written policy, guidelines or information available from their office on what features/criteria they would accept or deny to classify a vehicle as a goods vehicle. The officers, employees, and agents of the GRA would often say what the criteria are but would give contradictory information”.
In the circumstances, Jahan is asking the High Court to grant several orders. Among them is a declaration that the vehicle is a motor vehicle used for the transport of goods and a declaration that the classification of the GRA/Commissioner General that the vehicle is a passenger vehicle is arbitrary, ultra vires, unreasonable, irrational, unfair, an abuse of power, unconstitutional, whimsical, capricious, against its own policy and without any legal foundation or authority.
He is also seeking an order of certiorari to compel Statia to take all steps necessary to accept the sum of $1,871,457 in total duties and taxes already paid and to clear and release the vehicle to him immediately. Also, the businessman is asking the court to order Statia to compensate him for the storage costs owed by him to John Fernandes Limited as a result of GRA’s unlawful actions.
Jahan also wants the court to grant an order that Statia pay damages and the costs of filing the proceedings. The lawsuit will come up for hearing on April 22, 2021, before Justice Damon Younge at the High Court in Demerara. Then, GRA will have to justify its classification of the vehicle.