Customs demands additional duties on Reliance aircraft

Mumbai: The Mumbai Customs has lodged additional import duty claims on two aircraft owned by Mukesh Ambani-headed Reliance Group, including the $55 million Airbus A-319 he presented his wife on her birthday and a 22-seater Falcon 900.

Customs officials said the two aircraft were collectively worth Rs400 crore and the total duty applicable was Rs98 crore. RIL's payment fell Rs57 crore short, they say.

The department, which seized the aircraft on Thursday, however, handed them back for maintenance and on the condition that they would not be used without permission.

"The aircraft were imported as non-scheduled carriers but were being used for private purposes. There is a difference in the duties charged," reports quoting customs officials said.

Non-scheduled or charter carriers attract lower duty than those imported for personal use.

"The office of the commissioner of customs has issued the order to provisionally release the two aircraft. The aircraft are allowed to fly upon provisional release as per the order and there is no restriction on the usage of the aircraft. With reference to the alleged tax evasion, Reliance has fully complied with all procedures and documentation....The notices have been referred to legal experts for further evaluation," Reliance said in a statement.

The aircraft were imported several months ago and the customs is alleging duty evasion only now. Reports also attribute the customs move to the new political equation in New Delhi.

The customs have seized several such aircraft in the recent past and at least 70 businessmen-importers of aircraft are under the customs scanner.