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Customs whisky trial continues in Apia

Customs Officers at the gate no longer fill space in a document to say that they have checked the contents of a container that leave Apia Wharf.It has been unused by Customs Officers, specifically “gate officers” for at least three years, the length of time she has worked for Ministry for Revenue, said Assistant Chief Executive Officer, Rima Ulu.The space is in the form of a little box on a document called the Customs Release Advisory which allows cargo to leave the wharf.The decision to no longer fill in the little box was made before she joined Revenue, Ulu said.ACEO of Border Protection and Enforcement at Revenue, Ulu started giving evidence this morning at the trial of Member of Parliament Levaopolo Talatonu Va’ai, for alleged falsification of documents in violation of the Customs Act 1977.Levaopolo and staff member of his Island Freight company, Christine Ainuu, are jointly charged with four counts of false declaration pursuant to section 221 and 209 of Customs Act 1977 and four counts of defrauding the Customs pursuant to section 218 and 209 of the same.Ainuu is further charged with five counts of forgery/ making false document and eight counts of uttering forged document pursuant to the Crimes Ordinance 1961.The allegations relate to a shipment of about 900 crates of VATT 99 and Democrat Scotch Whisky which slipped into the country undiscovered at the wharf.They were discovered being sold at shops but no record existed at Customs to show that significant amounts of whisky had entered the country at the relevant time.The prosecution argues the whisky came in a container, consigned to Island Freight, where Levaopolo and Ainuu created documents to disguise the shipment as personal effects.The defence says the personal effects in the container were removed by their owners after proper clearance by Customs Officer Josephine Hunt at Island Freight premises.The container now empty was allowed by Levaopolo over the phone from New Zealand to be used to store goods owned by a Toleapai Jonah Lee.The goods turned out to be bottles of whisky.The defence argues that the whisky could have entered the country in any one of the 80 containers which last year were not cleared according to records at Customs – but which apparently were removed from the wharf.This morning in response to questioning by Toleafoa Solomona Toailoa, lawyer for Ainuu, Ulu said it was impractical for every container to be checked at the wharf.“There’ll be a backlog of containers all the way to Savai’i (Island),” she said.