Experts blame lack of coordination between the attorney general’s office and the revenue board for the delay in disposing of the cases at the Supreme Court
Two subsidiary companies of Abul Khair Group have been accused of evading duties of over Tk200 crore between January and June last year.
Customs filed 29 cases against Abul Khair Milk Products at the department's tribunal in Chittagong, but lost all of them.
The customs department then moved to the High Court to realise over Tk84.37 crore from the company.
Customs filed another 25 cases, accusing the Consumer and Steel Unit of Abul Khair Group of dodging over Tk116 crore in taxes that are pending at the department's tribunal.
Deputy Attorney General Samarendra Nath Biswas said the appeals were not posted in the cause list for hearing at the High Court.
Thus, in 31,463 such cases filed across the country over customs, excise, VAT, income tax and bonds, Tk45,568 crore in revenue has been stuck, according to information from the Supreme Court and the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
Number of cases as of December 2019
As of December last year, 12,135 appeals and writ petitions involving Tk22,958 crore revenue claims were pending for disposal at the High Court.
Another 638 cases involving Tk3,726 crore revenue are awaiting disposal at the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Tk14,324 crore is stuck against 15,613 cases pending at the Customs Excise and VAT Appeal Commission, while Tk4,560 crore is stuck against 3077 cases awaiting disposal at the Customs, Excise and VAT Appeal Tribunal.
Of Tk45,568 crore revenue claims, Tk22,850 crore is tied up in 9,305 cases for realising VAT, and Tk12,917 crore is stuck in 350 cases involving income tax.
The NBR in 2014 filed a case against New Line Communications – a mobile phone and telephone accessories exporter and sales firm – for dodging Tk29 crore in VAT, and won the case at the customs' tribunal.
The company challenged the verdict in 2017 at the High Court, where the appeal is awaiting disposal.
The appeal has not yet been posted in the cause list for High Court hearing, said SM Akram Hossain, a counsel for the firm.
Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam, an expert on company law, said just two High Court benches have been authorised to hear revenue related cases. Several thousand civil cases are also pending at the two benches, which pay more attention to cases not related to revenue.
He said the High Court should have one or two benches dedicated to revenue related cases.
Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, former chairman of the NBR, told The Business Standard, "Lack of coordination between the attorney general's office and the revenue board has resulted in the delay in disposing of these cases."
"There are allegations of not presenting necessary data for conducting the cases, and not getting expected cooperation from the attorney general's office to post the cases in the cause list for hearing at the Supreme Court."
He further said the revenue board does not have a legal wing. The number of officials who have knowledge of revenue related cases and are capable of coordinating with the attorney general's office is also inadequate. Because of this, one does not get the expected result in the cases, and the cases get delayed.
Bhuiyan said when the High Court stays a NBR order upon a writ petition by any firm, a civil miscellaneous petition has to be filed within a month, but the concerned section of the NBR cannot do this within the given time. Consequently, there is a further delay in disposing of the case.
NBR's legal officer Md Liakat Ali told The Business Standard the revenue board has made various efforts to dispose of the cases.
But different firms repeatedly take time and delay the hearings to stall paying the dues.
In the 2015-16 fiscal year, an allegation was raised against Bangladeshi freight forwarding company GBX Logistics for dodging Tk56 crore income tax.
GBX submitted an income tax return according to its self-assessment in that fiscal year. It showed its income at Tk12.12 crore and paid about Tk71 lakh tax.
But as NBR became suspicious about the matter it started an enquiry which revealed the fact. The revenue board says that in that fiscal year the company earned Tk366.06 crore. Accordingly, the company should have paid Tk56.43 crore in tax.
The High Court last year stayed the enquiry upon a writ petition by the GBX Logistics, and thus the income tax claim by the NBR could not be realised.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Business Standard the firms which owe money to the NBR are very influential. "They can manage many things."
He said the attorney general's office is very sincere about disposing of the cases pending at the Supreme Court. Many cases are being disposed of.
The attorney general said they will talk to the chief justice about setting up two High Court benches dedicated to revenue related cases.
Dr Nasir Uddin Ahmed, former chairman of the NBR, said, "There is a common tradition in our country that when one goes to court the issue gets held up."
He said the revenue board has to be more sincere and active regarding these cases and the court will also have to be sincere because the money belongs to the state and the people.