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Hefty fines and prison stay for false customs declarations

Chester Cooper. FILE

Bahamians caught defrauding government, including on their customs forms, will face up to six months in prison and/or a $100,000 fine, once the Penal Code Amendment Bill 2018 passes through Parliament.

While starting debate on the compendium of financial services bills yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest said the bill, which criminalizes the act of defrauding the government in relation to the collection of money for the purposes of general revenue, is long overdue.

“This bill brings tax evasion within the lexicon of criminal acts in The Bahamas and is a landmark bill whose time has come in making tax evasion an offense within The Bahamas,” he said.

“And we are debunking the notion that The Bahamas encourages tax evasion or protects tax dodgers, and we are counteracting the stigma associated with being regarded as a tax haven.”

The bill defines intent to defraud the government as willfully delivering false or fraudulent information to a person employed in the public service who collects money for general revenue; willfully omits information required to be provided to a person employed in the public service who collects money for general revenue, where required by law; and willfully obstruct, hinders, intimidates or resists a person employed in the public service who collects money for general revenue.

“A person who with intent to defraud the government commits an offense and is liable to on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or both such fine and imprisonment,” the Bill said.

“On conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding $500,000 or to both such fine and imprisonment.”

Opposition Deputy Leader and Shadow Minister of Finance Chester Cooper questioned if the government understood the possible impact of the amendment during his contribution to the debate.

“With this, I do hope the government understands that this has widespread local implications. If I’m reading this right, if you put incorrect information on your customs form when you arrive at the airport, you will be subject to imprisonment for up to six months,” Cooper said.

“Whilst we don’t condone these types of errors, tell me, does the government plan on building a bigger prison to accommodate the ramifications of this? Is that the plan? Or did no one really think this through? This law needs to be more specific. Please consult our good attorney general and fix it before any inadvertent harm is done to unsuspecting citizens.”

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