The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bumpy ride for Sush & SUV
- Octroi evasion charge chases stars with showpiece machines

Mumbai, Sept. 3: Trophy wives are ten a penny in tinsel town; and false Texas twangs are passe.

The current rage in Bollywood therefore is the swanky imported SUV, whose sky-high price tag makes it tough to beat as a status symbol.

The catch is that these dream machines are threatening to prove nearly as treacherous a possession as an AK-47 procured from a “friend” or the spoils from a just-for-kicks black buck hunting expedition.

The customs duty is scary enough. Add to it the civic body’s tax, octroi, and watch your hair stand on end.

No surprise that from tough guys Sanjay Dutt and Salman Khan to new kid Shahid Kapur, they have all found themselves hauled up on the charge of dodging customs duty on their cars.

Things have got more serious since then. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation is ready to file a case against Sushmita Sen in a week for evading octroi on her Land Cruiser.

This is just the beginning, swear civic officials. They are probing similar violations by other Bollywood leading lights.

“We have information from the directorate of revenue intelligence (DRI) about a whole lot of other actors involved in octroi evasion on imported cars. We have decided to take the matter up in right earnest,” said Satish Bhide, joint municipal commissioner (octroi and assessment).

Among those to have fallen foul of the directorate for suspected customs duty dodge are — apart from Dutt, Khan and Kapur — Sushmita herself, Suniel Shetty, Saif Ali Khan and Diya Mirza.

Bhide said Sushmita wrote to the corporation last month saying she was ready to shell out the octroi — a sum of Rs 2.16 lakh — but didn’t want to pay the Rs 23.86-lakh fine.

Contacted by The Telegraph, Sushmita said: “I acquired the Land Cruiser from a well-known car dealer under a lease agreement in 2005. The car was in someone else’s name at the time and the octroi should have been paid by him. But we were not aware that it hadn’t been. We were cheated.

“We got to know about this when we got a notice from the BMC saying no octroi had been paid. Now we are talking to them to find a solution.”

Bhide said she has just a week to pay up or prove she was cheated by her dealer if she wants to avoid being hauled to court under Section 476 of the Mumbai Mahanagarpalika Act.

“If she can prove she was taken for a ride, we may exempt her penalty to some extent. She’ll have to furnish the details of her cheque payment to her agent for the purpose.”

Bhide said the corporation’s suspicions were raised by the absence of an octroi receipt among the car’s registration papers in road transport office files. “This is mandatory for registration of a vehicle. Its absence raises suspicion about a malafide intention to evade the duty.”

The DRI had seized the Land Cruiser in March accusing the actress of evading customs duty. It returned the car after Sushmita coughed up the sum of Rs 9 lakh, but Bhide says the corporation may now impound it to recover dues.

Civic and DRI officials say the actor is “wittingly or unwittingly” guilty on more than one count. The car, MH 01-P00470, was bought under a false name and registered with a false valuation and false manufacturing date.

“The bill of registration is in the name of one Mr Thamla,” a senior directorate official confirmed.

Second, “The Land Cruiser’s value was shown as Rs 14 lakh during registration, which substantially lowers the amount of octroi to be paid. But the DRI has proved that the price of the car is Rs 41 lakh,” Bhide said.

This was established with Toyota confirming the car “was manufactured in 2003 and not in 1998 as the actress claimed”, the DRI official said.

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