CESTAT | Requirement of mens rea is a sine qua non for imposing a penalty on Customs Broker under Ss. 112 and 114AA of the Customs Act

Customs, Excise and Service Tax Tribunal (CESTAT): Justice P. Dinesha (Judicial Member) allowed the appeal filed by a shipping company against the Commissioner of Customs. He further decided that the impugned penalties stand set aside.

The authorities filed allegations against the appellant under Sections 112(d) and 114AA of the Customs Act, 1962. A show-cause notice was issued against the appellant herein under Sections 28 and 124 of the Customs Act stating that he did not inform the Revenue that the importer did not possess licence for import of Chlorodifluoromethane (R-22 Gas); he did not present the imported goods for examination; and thus he was liable for penalty under Section 112(a) of the Act for abetting smuggling of R-22 gas, for non-compliance of Regulations 11(d) and 11(n) of the Customs Broker Licensing Regulations, 2013 (CBLR).

Issue: Whether the Revenue was justified in imposing a penalty under Sections 112 (d) and 114AA of the Customs Act, 1962 on the appellant who was only a Customs Broker and not the importer.

J.V. Niranjan, Advocate for the appellant, contended that the Revenue had not established mens rea for levying penalty and that the authorities did not conduct any investigation, filed an appeal against the above allegations. L. Nandakumar, Advocate for the Respondent, prayed for sustaining the penalty contending that the Bill-of-Entry did not contain sufficient details of the goods sought to be imported and the appellant did not bother to ascertain whether the importer had the required licence, constituting a serious lapse covered under Regulations 11(d) and 11(n) of the CBLR.

The Tribunal opined that the Revenue was not able to clearly establish either active or passive role or any deliberate or mala fide act; and the appellant had advised the importer as to the requirement of import licence, being sufficient compliance insofar as Regulation 11(d) is concerned. It was further held that the allegations were not sufficient to fasten with the penalty of the nature impugned as it was not established that appellant handled the work of clearance with mala fide motive and Sections 112(a) and 114AA of the Customs Act include an intentional or deliberate act or omission and even the motive is attributable to the act of abetment to do any act or omit to do any act.

The appeal was allowed stating that Section 114AA could be invoked only on the establishment of the fact that the declaration, statement or document submitted in the transaction of any business for the purpose of the act is false or incorrect. The penalties and impugned order confirming the penalties questioned herein was set aside. [Sea Queen Shipping Services (P) Ltd. v. Commr. of Customs, 2019 SCC OnLine CESTAT 1483, decided on 05-12-2019]

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