THE CUSTOMS Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) in Mumbai has imposed a penalty of Rs 25 lakh on a former senior customs official for allegedly smuggling 12.25 metric tonnes of red sanders worth Rs 1.2 crore in 2013 to the UK from Nhava Sheva port in Mumbai through Kelang Port in Malaysia.
The tribunal, in its September 25 order, said Mohammed Altaf, a former assistant commissioner posted at the Marine and Preventive (M&P) wing of the Customs department in 2013 “played a pivotal role” in the smuggling of red sanders by negotiating with the “suppliers, the middleman, the exporters and the logistics persons in the export of red sanders” and investing Rs 50 lakh in the alleged smuggling business.
“We find that the role played by Mohammad Altaf is evident in the case and looking into the fact that he is a responsible officer of the Customs department, entrusted with the responsibility of curbing smuggling activities, we find that the appellant has not made out any case for proving the allegations to be wrong and baseless. We find that it is a clear case of the fence eating the crop and, therefore, need to be treated with circumspection,” the tribunal order passed by CESTAT members, SK Mohanty and P Anjani Kumar, stated. In June 2019, Altaf was dismissed from service by the government under rule 56(j) of the Fundamental Rules that allows the appropriate authority to retire any government servant, in public interest, by giving notice of three months.
The case, pertaining to Altaf, was probed by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in 2013 after it recalled a mid-sea consignment declared as Indian hand-knotted woollen carpets exported through a Mirzapur-based firm. When the agency examined the container, it found 12.25 metric tonnes of red sanders. The investigation found that Altaf had met a supplier of red sanders in Andhra Pradesh and “hatched a plan” to smuggle it with the help of a customs clearing agent and a few others.
Subsequently Altaf, in his statements to the DRI, admitted to the alleged smuggling but retracted his statements after a month. The CESTAT held the retraction of statements by Altaf was an “afterthought”.
“We find that the investigation has to a reasonable extent came out with evidence that can be analysed and accepted on the principles of preponderance of probability. Therefore, we uphold the penalty imposed on Shri Mohammad Altaf, under Section 114 (i) of Customs Act, 1962,” the CESTAT order said.
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