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Why is Gov’t protecting TRH/AJA Group (Pt1)

-As company gives conflicting accounts following cocaine bust

By Othello B. Garblah

There are particles of dust in the air amid conflicting accounts over the recent drug bust at TRH Trading Corporation, a conglomerate of AJA Group rented facility off the Japanese Freeway in Monrovia.

The bust comes amidst reported tax evasion by TRH and its parent company AJA Group over alleged disparities in tax payments to the government of Liberia.

On the weekend of Saturday, October 1, a joint Liberian security operation busted cocaine worth US$100 million at street value at TRH rented facility on the Japanese Freeway in Topoe Village.

As the Liberian authorities began their investigation into the bust, TRH and its parent company AJA Group came up claiming that they had been a victim of the cocaine bust. They claimed according to some media reports that some unknown men had approached them to purchase some chicken feet from the entity.

AJA Group according to media reports, claimed initially that the men had offered US200,000 to purchase their chicken feet from the said container.

But instead of reporting such suspicious requests to the Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA), AJA Group through its owners chose to contact the US Embassy near Monrovia, prompting the bust operation, that’s according to initial media reports.

In another account published by another newspaper on Friday, October 14, following publications in this paper about alleged shady tax deals by TRH, AJA Group claimed it was offered US$ 1 million to look the other way to release the said container.

According to that publication, this prompted AJA to notify the US Embassy and not Liberian authorities.

The figures being quoted in both publications varied by US$800,000, but that’s TRH and  AJA Group story which might now be bought by Liberians about the drugs discovered.

The consignment in question was shipped by Castrolanda Cooperativa in Brazil and loaded at the port of Itajai on August 23, 2022, before being forwarded to Maersk Line Liberia Limited with TRH Trading Company as the consignee.

The 40ft container weighing 27, 891,000, with serial #265710/SIF2427, a refrigerated ISO container containing 1350 cartoons of frozen pork hind was dully shipped to TRH Trading Corporation as recipient.

In one of its claims, TRH alleged that its container lock was tampered with but raised no such claims to Liberian authorities until its name came up during the drug heist.

“Certain loose and unregulated privileges”

TRH/AJA Group appears to be enjoying certain privileges with the Government of Liberia as it relates to its business dealings. TRH/AJA is one of the privileged companies that clear its containers from the port on invoices and bills of landing without going through any physical inspection.

Apparently for other unknown reasons but notably they are the importer of pro-poor rice. This paper also gathered that as a result of the unfair advantage AJA Group enjoys other businesses have collapsed, while some are struggling and finding other means to diversify.

TRH/AJA in most recent time cleared two consignments with no inspections.  They just use invoices and bills of landing, the same loose way that may have motivated the drug to be imported by or through them.

TRH/ AJA Group also enjoys other special privileges under this regime when it comes to taxation and clearance at the National Port Authority, something that even struggling Liberian businesses are denied here.

For example, multiple customs clearance notices in the possession of this paper for the same commodity-eggs, TRH paid far less in total customs charges as compared to its competitors.

For instance, on January 27, 2022, Supply West Africa Traders (SWAT) imported consignment of eggs with an assessed value of US$7,217.01. On April 1, 2022, Venus Corporation imported a similar quantity and paid in total taxes US$8, 270.84. SWAT in June paid US$10, 880.91 for the same product.

On April 13, 2022, EID Supply Center imported eggs in a similar quantity and was charged US$7, 746.98. On February 25, 2022, TRH Trading Corporation imported a similar quantity of eggs like the previous importers but paid just US$2,012.55 in taxes. In most cases, TRH/AJA Groups shipments do not go through the same clearing processes as other importers.

The Disparity

The Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA) in a communication spotted by this paper during an inquiry defended the disparity saying TRH is a Compliant Trader Program (CTP) participant, which allows their declarations to be accepted for immediate release by Customs, subject to post-clearance audit review.

In the communication signed by Kaihenneh Sengbeh, LRA’s Manager, Communications, Media, and Public Affairs stated that the Post Clearance Audit (PCA) is a universal trade facilitation tool in customs intended to allow relatively compliant importers access to expeditious clearance subject to review after goods relating to such importers have been cleared from ports.

The LRA also claimed that the review outcomes establish purely technical matters relating to General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) valuation and that it had nothing to do with fraud.

On Tuesday, October 11, this paper was reliably informed of a freeze on TRH and its owners’ accounts as part of an ongoing investigation into fraud and money laundering by the Financial Intelligence Agency.

A source from the AJA Group also informed this paper that the freeze had been lifted but TRH had been asked to make an initial deposit of 250K into FIA Transitory Account at the CBL pending tax and compliance audit.

Again, this story was immediately rebuffed by other media outlets pushing the AJA Group’s chicken feet claim on the drug bust.

On Thursday, October 13, an operative of TRH, PI Nimely calling this paper to push the chicken feet narrative confirmed that the accounts were frozen but had been lifted.

PI Nimely, a former senior Liberian National Police officer said: “Call again, I am telling you they already lifted the freeze.”

Highly placed sources within the FIA also confirmed to this paper that the freeze had been lifted but the TRH had been asked to pay the US$250K into FIA Transitory Account at the CBL pending tax and compliance audit.

That was after FIA (not FIU as initially reported) Officer in Charge, Mr. Emmanuel Gee had earlier confirmed to New Dawn investigators on Thursday that accounts of TRH Trading Corporation had been frozen after detecting money laundering and tax evasion by the company.

Mr. Gee told our investigators via mobile phone: “As we carry out further investigations on possible tax evasion, the FIA (not FIU) has frozen the accounts of those involved, and the Government of Liberia is cooperating with the investigation.”

On Friday, the FIA issued a press release saying no Liberian business was found to be linked or associated with the most recent illicit substance/ consignment that was found in a container containing shipments to TRH Trading/ AJA Group.

The FIA went on to quote a ministry of justice release saying “ongoing investigation into a stockpile of illicit drugs allegedly seized in Montserrado County, Liberia by officials of the National Security Agency (NSA) and Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA) that triggered the FIA to intensify a detailed investigation regarding the enforcement of tax compliance among companies operating in Liberia” has no link to a Liberian company.

The FIA further clarified that it was not investigating the discovery of the illicit drug, something no report has linked it to but rather it has open preliminary investigations due to prevalence of tax evasion in Liberia as established by the Country’s anti-money laundering and terrorist financing risk assessment/ National Risk Assessment Report (NRA).

Government’s clearing of TRH

The hasty clearing of TRH by the Liberian Government of any link with the stockpiled of drugs discovered in its consigned container begs a lot of questions.

Brokers say, there is no way that TRH can prove it’s innocent when the container containing the drugs was shipped to the company.

What brokers have found more interesting about this shipment and the privileges being enjoyed by TRH Trading Company is that the Global Maritime Tracking Solution, which tracks all shipments from around the globe warned that the consignment which contained the drugs be subject to physical inspection.

But customs authorities at National Port Authority ignored the warning and allow the container to leave the port without any physical inspection. (To be continued).https://thenewdawnliberia.com/trh-to-pay-us250k-in-fiu-a-c-pending-audit/

NewDawn

The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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