Aquapure fears water shortage over duty woes

By NEIL HARTNELL Tribune Business Editor A LEADING bottled water manufacturer is questioning whether it fell victim to an import duty-related scam, as it raced against time yesterday afternoon to clear imported machine parts vital to prevent it from running out of water by today. Geoffrey Knowles, one of Aquapure's principals, yesterday told Tribune Business that with just 35,000 gallons of bottled water left the company was likely to "be out by tonight (Tuesday)", unless it was able to clear replacement parts for its reverse osmosis machine through Customs. He explained that Customs was refusing to clear the spare parts on the grounds that Aquapure had failed to pay it due import duties on an estimated 25 shipments dating from 2010 - sums Mr Knowles thought had already been paid by the company's former Customs broker. Aquapure, he added, had paid all the necessary duties to its former broker, who is now deceased, and was of the seemingly-mistaken belief he had passed those sums on to Customs. The bottled water manufacturer, Mr Knowles said, was now in the position of having to pay the same Customs duties and brokerage fees, amounting to "thousands of dollars", twice, or face a large portion of its business effectively being shut down through an inability to produce product. He was also facing the time-consuming process of having to go back through Aquapure's files, including some from last year, to reconcile the paperwork issues left by the former broker, making sure the shipments Customs was questioning were the company's, and that prices and duties sought were correct. "We paid the duty to him, but we've got 25 shipments he did not properly clear and pay for. He received them and did not clear them properly," Mr Knowles told Tribune Business of the former broker. "I've got some 35,000 gallons of water left, which will be out tonight (Tuesday). They (Customs) say they can't release the parts for the reverse osmosis machine until we pay all these outstanding things. It's tying my hands. I can't clear anything at the airport until this stuff is paid." Tribune Business was unable to contact Mr Knowles at press time, with an answer phone message left unreturned, so it is unclear whether Aquapure was able to resolve its Customs issue prior to running out of water. He did, though, confirm to Tribune Business that the company had paid duty on 10 past shipments last week, only to be hit by demands for payment on another 10 yesterday. Mr Knowles said Customs had not spoken to him, instead dealing with his new broker. "It's up to about 25 shipments now, and to go back and search everything to make sure it's our stuff takes me hours and hours," Mr Knowles told Tribune Business. "It took me a day-and-a-half last week to go through the files, the correspondence, payments and invoices. "We clear a lot of stuff. It's not a shipment a week. We get two, three, four a week, and have two outstanding at the moment. When a machine breaks down we need a part. But Customs is refusing to clear anything unless we pay them for 10-15 shipments that I haven't seen." The Aquapure principal questioned how the company's shipments could have been cleared without the required Customs duty being paid, and queried whether the company's original payments had fallen victim to some form of scam. "We rely on Customs not to release anything until it's cleared," Mr Knowles said. "They have to balance their manifest at the end of each month. They have to make sure these things are done every month, paid, cleared and documented." Customs comptroller, Glenn Gomez, did not return Tribune Business's calls for comment despite leaving a detailed message with his secretary explaining the nature of the inquiry. Follow-up calls proved futile, with the phone at Customs not being answered.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment