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Last Updated: Monday, 25 April, 2005, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Bangladesh takes on tax dodgers
By Waliur Rahman
BBC News, Dhaka

BMW being destroyed by Bangladeshi tax officials
Cars of other tax evaders will also be destroyed, officials say
Bangladeshi customs officials have destroyed two expensive cars which they say were imported under false pretences in order avoid tax payments.

Bulldozers were used to crush a Mercedes Benz and a Toyota at a railway container terminal in Dhaka.

Such displays are highly unusual in one of the world's most corrupt countries, where car ownership is coveted.

Officials told tax dodgers to look out. Critics said it was all a carefully choreographed public relations stunt.

Public display

National Board of Revenue (NBR) chairman Khairuzzaman Chowdhury said a trading firm had sought to evade customs duties by falsely declaring that a container was carrying iron scrap.

Instead, the two vehicles along with a television, refrigerator and air conditioning system were found inside.

We have acted in line with the court order. We also want to ensure that such attempts to evade tax do not take place in the future
NBR chief Khairuzzman Chowdhury

"They wanted to befool us by saying they brought in scrapped metals... so we are giving them the same. They, or anyone like them, will not forget this," Mr Chowdhury told reporters at the site.

Tax officials - eager to show they are not slow to combat corruption - made sure that hundreds of journalists and members of the public witnessed the destruction.

They said the container arrived from Singapore two years ago with a declaration that it carried only scrap iron.

But when the importers failed to clear the item from the port within the specified time, customs officials opened the container and discovered a variety of items that was anything but scrap metal.

Court order

Officials said they were "shocked" to see the items because they had trusted the verification certificate issued by a foreign pre-shipment firm.

They say that it was a blatant attempt at tax evasion because import duties and other supplementary taxes are very high on new cars.

Bangladesh BMW showroom
New cars are worth their weight in gold

But the path to destruction was not easy.

NBR officials had to go to court when the importers failed to appear before custom officials for clarification.

After a lengthy hearing, the court gave them permission to demolish the cars as they had been imported under the guise of being scrap.

"We have acted in line with the court order. We also want to ensure that such attempts to evade tax do not take place in the future," said the NBR chief Khairuzzman Chowdhury.

Bangladesh has one of the poorest tax collection records per head of population in the world.

Tax revenues were 20% short of target in the first nine months (July to March) of the current fiscal year.

Widespread evasion, a rise in the import of tax-free items and severe flooding in July-September period have been blamed for lower-than-expected levels of tax collection.

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