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Apr 29, 2005

“Owners” collect vehicles at Customs

It was almost a festive mood today at the Customs Department as owners of vehicles confiscated almost three months ago for alleged duty evasion finally drove their cars home. Apparently, whatever difficulties they encountered yesterday in getting a member of staff to sign off on the required documents was overcome. The owners report that in addition to paying the assessed duty on the vehicle and posting a bond for three times the amount of the assessed value, they also had to sign a letter indemnifying the government from any possible legal claim. In a letter issued by Customs on Wednesday, the owners were informed that an investigation revealed the late model S.U.V.’s and trucks were stolen in Guatemala and brought into Belize illegally through unofficial points of entry. Most of the twenty owners whose vehicles were picked up during the Customs sweep in early February had purchased them from someone who had bought it from somewhere else, or people they believe were the original importer. However, they assumed the duties had been paid since the vehicles had been processed by the Belize City Traffic Department and licensed without difficulty. In last night’s newscast, we erroneously reported that the vehicles were licensed by the Transport Department, which is incorrect. We apologize for the error. We also reported that several of the owners indicated they had acquired their vehicles from a man named Yasser Safa. We spoke with Safa this afternoon and he claims that in fact he is also a victim and not an importer at all. He says he only sold four vehicles to Belizeans and that he purchased them from a man in Corozal, Luis Martinez, who brought him all the correct documentation and an open registration transfer form. He claims that he too had a vehicle confiscated by Customs and that he has been trying to contact Martinez to collect on the duty, but has not been able to locate him. He says he gave all this information to Customs one month ago, but they have not contacted him since and he plans to go in and pay his duties to get his vehicle just like everyone else.

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