The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has said an estimated 1,200 ‘Togo cars’ have been intercepted, in the Greater Accra Region alone, within the last two years.
These cars initially entered the country legitimately but became illegal after exhausting their stay – falsifying documents to merit legal status and thereby evade import taxes.
Ag. Commissioner of Customs, Seidu Iddrisu Iddisah, told B&FT that the Division seizes an average 50 cars every month in hotspot regions – including the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Western and Northern Regions.
The scourge, accordingly, has resulted in an estimated US$30million revenue loss in the past two years since 2020.
The concept of ‘Togo cars’
Commissioner Iddisah, in demystifying the concept of ‘Togo cars’, explained that though the majority of these cars come from Togo, a chunk of them is also brought in from Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, with Nigeria being the new hotspot for the vice.
He said the practice results from abuse of temporary legal importation of vehicles, captured under the ECOWAS protocols to allow easy movement of goods and people across member-states.
The treaty allows for a maximum 90-days for such cars to stay in the visiting country after a tangible reason is given. The conditions attached stipulate that the vehicle must belong to the driver; and he/she must be a citizen of the country of origin of the car, as well as having appropriate documents for evidence.
The age-old abuse/crime
Over the years, some Ghanaians have made it their trade – taking undue advantage of Togo’s free port and collaborating with Togolese nationals and people from various nationalities in the sub-region to bring these cars into the country through the ECOWAS protocol and illegally change the vehicles’ identity after arrival in Ghana.
“Though most of these foreign nationals are caught at the borders through the fake documents they present, some manage to drive these cars to their owners in Accra and Kumasi by using their identity cards as Togolese nationals who are in Ghana to visit friends and family or to do business,” Commissioner Iddisah disclosed.
These original Ghanaian owners of the said cars, according to Mr. Iddisah, later make fake documents of the ‘Togo car’ to match with similar cars that are already legally imported into the country – they tamper expertly with the chassis-number beyond recognition of the layman.
He said only a trained Customs officer can detect that the chassis-number has been altered or tampered with, as two cars cannot have the same chassis-number even if they were manufactured the same day and time by the same company.
Greed as a factor
Though the Division indicates that it is progressively tackling the menace, Commissioner Iddisah blames the greed of some Ghanaians as the fuelling factor of this illegality.
“A car that sells for GH¢70,000 should not be offered to anybody for GH¢30,000. Unfortunately, that is what excites most buyers. Worse case, they do not involve the services of Customs officials in the purchase of such cars. That is greed, to some extent,” he noted.
The punishment for this offence, according to the Division, is an outright seizure of the vehicle; and in some cases prosecution after the original ‘importer’ of the vehicle is found. However, it is often difficult to trace the importer as more than 70 percent of buyers become the first and original victim. These vehicles usually have fake registration numbers and number plates, and do not go through the DVLA system.
The capacity to detect
The Customs Division, according to Commissioner Iddisah, has trained officers who have the capacity and expertise to detect such crimes.
“We have capable officers who have been clamping-down on these illegal cars. They can look at the chassis-number and within seconds tell you if it has been tampered with. Additionally, the Division deploys modern gadgets and technologies to check the legal status of any of these cars upon suspicion,” he said.
Commissioner Iddisah asked the general public to remain vigilant and visit the nearest GRA office to check the status of vehicles before purchase. The Division is also undertaking ongoing education about the public’s need to be cautious of where such vehicle purchases are made.
“You don’t buy a car and hide it in your room; you want to drive the car around and the Customs will occasionally stop you upon suspicions. It is therefore important to know the status of your car,” the Commissioner said.
Commissioner Iddisah, disclosed that the Division is finalising processes to begin collaboration with other Customs departments in Africa and the sub-region to track the smuggling of these cars and other applicable goods.