A major racket involving the purchase and resale of duty-free cigarettes has been uncovered at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), according to a person who owns a business there.
According to the operator, who asked not to be identified, the “well organized” scam is so widespread among workers employed at the airport that it has begun to adversely affect the viability of businesses.
“In some cases I am asked to pay as much as $228 000 in rent from the sales made during the month. In addition, I have to pay staff, buy stock and cover other overhead expenses. This would not be so burdensome if airport workers were not involved in the abuse of the duty-free arrangements that are in place and deplete our stock of cigarettes,” this person complained to Barbados TODAY, adding that under the terms of contract concessionaires are asked to pay as much as 28 per cent of the sales made during the month as rental fee.
The operator explained that several members of GAIA staff at various levels buy duty-free cigarettes at the knock-down price of $60 per carton and then sell them to local shopkeepers and restaurant owners at double the duty-free price.
Describing it as a “thriving business” run by a “closely-knit” group, this person said both Government employees and GAIA staff are involved in the abuse of the system, including sweepers, cleaners and security personnel.
“It is a thriving business at the airport and many of the Government employees and GAIA staff are involved in it . . . It seems to be a closely-knit group of persons involved in the illicit business. This is a revenue stream that has been hijacked by some unscrupulous persons. These are the same people who would complain if the Government does not pay their wages and salaries on time, yet they are robbing the national treasury of valuable foreign exchange. They would also complain if they did not get their entitlements on time. When they buy cigarettes duty free and they find their way on the shelves of local shops and restaurants, the Government does not gain any foreign exchange,” the source said.
The operator suggested that in an attempt to break the back of the illicit trade, maids, cleaners and Government security personnel should be rotated on a regular basis.
Our source pointed out that the duty free arrangements were put in place to secure sales from visitors who were on their way out of the island, explaining that these visitors would buy the cigarettes using either credit cards or travellers cheques which are later redeemed in foreign currency.
The source complained that in some cases GAIA workers and Government security personnel buy as many as 20 to 25 cartons of cigarettes, which are then sold to local shops.
“In addition to robbing the Treasury of valuable foreign exchange, the illicit trade also defeats Government’s no smoking campaign. The illicit trade also places a heavy financial burden on Government to provide medical care for Barbadians who suffer the ill effects of heavy smoking.”
The source also pointed out that the illicit trade placed a strain on the outlets’ inventories after making major sales to employees who do not qualify for the duty-free concessions.
He charged that having purchased the cigarettes, staff members hide them in washrooms or near gate 14 at the airport until their shifts end.
When contacted for a comment, Chief Operating Officer of the GAIA Joseph Johnson said the matter would be investigated “as a matter of urgency”.