Operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service on Tuesday sealed the premises of Stallion Group’s Popular Foods and Masco Agro, and Olam in a bid to recover over N23.6bn allegedly owed the government by four rice importers.
Other companies that are expected to suffer the same fate are Milan Nigeria Limited (Conti-Agro) and Ebony Agro.
The NCS also announced the suspension of Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc and Diamond Bank from further collecting Customs duties over their non-compliance with the partnership agreement with the Customs on the matter.
The spokesperson for the NCS, Wale Adeniyi, said the Customs authorities took the decision after exploring various avenues to ensure that the debtors paid up but the efforts yielded no results.
He said, “The affected companies will also no longer be allowed to discharge their imports in any port in Nigeria. The defaulters and their associated companies have been blocked from the Customs imports system where they ought to have their 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.”
Adeniyi said the rice milling companies imported in excess of 750,253,003 metric tonnes of the produce in 2014 at preferential duty rates and levy.
He said, “They were the beneficiaries of the 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 the beneficiaries.
“So, any 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 noted that many of the defaulters had earlier been notified of their indebtedness but did nothing about it.
Adeniyi said, “We wrote the affected importers several letters 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.”
Olam reportedly owes N4,998,125,665.86, having exceeded its authorised allotted import quota by 149,469.51 metric tonnes; the Stallion Group allegedly owes N17,187,245,022.96 for excess 529,517.33 MT beyond the allotted quota.