Businessman sues GRA over misclassification of 4-door pickups

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One of the pickups imported by businessman Hanson Ross

Businessman Hanson Eldon Ross of Atlantic Gardens, East Coast Demerara (ECD) last Wednesday sued the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and its Commissioner General Godfrey Statia for what he says was the tax body’s misclassification of his two four-door Toyota Tundra pickups.

The businessman is being represented by attorney at law Siand Dhurjon

Ross explained in the 98-page court documents that he imported two extended cab 2007 Toyota Tundra pick-up trucks on September 19, 2021 and October 7, 2021 under the legitimate expectation that they would be treated and classified as goods vehicles which attract only about $417,000 tax for each pickup.

Ross and his customs brokers spoke to officers of the GRA both verbally and in writing to appeal to them to have the vehicles properly deemed as goods vehicles. However, on December 10, 2021, a letter dated December 10, 2021 from the GRA’s ‘Harmonized System Classification Committee’ had communicated that the said vehicles were ‘vehicles principally designed for the transport of passengers’ and not goods vehicles. This meant that in total Ross would have had to pay approximately $16,771,949 to clear both vehicles.

Attorney-at-Law Siand Dhurjon

Dhurjon, on behalf of his client, wrote the GRA on the issue and the organisation agreed to examine the vehicles and to ‘further review’ its position. However, after examination, the GRA maintained its decision that the vehicles were goods vehicles. On July 7, 2022, the GRA published Ross’ Tundra pickups on their ‘want of entry list’ in the Kaieteur newspapers so that they would be ‘disposed of’. The GRA, after another missive from, Dhurjon, agreed to withdraw and remove the Tundras from the want of entry list for disposal.

With no resolution of the matter, Ross filed a Fixed Date Application under the Judicial Review Act on November 30, 2022 challenging the actions of the Commissioner General and the GRA.

Ross, through his counsel, brought to the attention of the GRA and identified at least three vehicles identical to the Tundra’s imported which are registered in the “G” series and therefore treated as goods vehicles. In fact, a much larger four-door Toyota Tundra Pickup of the ‘CrewMax’ double cab type was registered as a goods vehicle. Ross also pointed to at least one double cabin Ford Explorer and Toyota Tacoma both of which were classified as goods vehicles in recent times.

Ross also averted to the existed of hundreds of four door pickups with six seats in Guyana especially Mitsubushi Canter and Toyota Toyoace pickups. Ross argues that the lawsuit has placed in evidence a policy of the GRA in respect of pickups which allow for a liberal scheme for the deeming of ‘double cab pickups’ as goods vehicles once certain criteria are met.

Ross stated that the GRA could not claim that the policy is no longer in force since he put in evidence documents given to him by a whistleblower working at the GRA which documents showed that the GRA relied on the very policy to permit a Toyota Tundra identical to his to be deemed as a goods vehicle recently.

Ross’s lawsuit against the GRA seeks declarations that the two Toyota Tundra pickups are motor vehicles used for the transport of goods falling under the classification code 8704 of Chapter 87 of Part 1 of the First Schedule to the Customs Act, Cap.82:01, that the Commissioner General acted arbitrarily, ultra vires, unreasonably, irrationally, unfairly, abusively of power, unconstitutionally, whimsically, capriciously, against the Revenue Authority’s own policy and without any legal foundation or authority. Ross also seeks an quashing order of certiorari to quash the Tundra’s classifications as passenger vehicles and an Order of Mandamus to compel the Commissioner General to take all steps necessary to recognize, classify and accept the said vehicles as motor vehicles used for the transport of goods and to assess the taxes and duties correspondingly. Ross also claims from the GRA the cost of storing the said vehicles at the Muneshwers wharf to date which now amount to over $2,900,000 according to the vehicles’ storage invoices put into evidence.

The matter is currently before Chief Justice Roxane George who is likely to fix a date for hearing in the matter shortly.