KEY Motors boss Desmond Panton was yesterday afternoon arrested and charged with 50 counts of evasion of Customs duties and taxes, taking steps to defraud the Government of duties, and unlawful removal of goods.
Panton's car dealership along Hagley Park Road in St Andrew was also shuttered by the Customs Department.
The gates to the premises and the doors to the Key Motors offices along the auto strip were sealed with tape bearing the Jamaica Customs Enforcement logo and the word "detained".
Commissioner of Customs Danville Walker said in a release yesterday that no one would be spared in the clampdown on illegality.
"One set of rules must be followed by everyone, and when persons breach these rules the full measure of the law must be applied, regardless of who you are," Walker said.
A Customs Department source told the Observer last night that other auto dealers were being probed.
"All bonded warehouses are now being audited and investigated," said the source.
Panton's arrest came after a year-long audit of the operations of Key Motors by the Customs Department, which said it uncovered a number of discrepancies regarding the evasion of Customs duties by releasing vehicles using improper procedures.
The department said yesterday that its Contraband Enforcement Team (CET) discovered that more than 50 vehicles, amounting to approximately $40 million in duties, have been illegally removed from the warehouse at Key Motors and unlawfully licensed.
The Customs Department source said that nine of those vehicles have so far been recovered from unsuspecting customers across the island between Saturday and Sunday. Key Motors carries the Hyundai brand of vehicles.
Following Panton's arrest, the Customs Department expressed regret over the seizure of the vehicles and assured that they would be returned "as soon as possible".
Hours after his arrest, Panton was released on a summons to appear in the Corporate Area Criminal Court on September 14.
If convicted, the businessman could be slapped with $100 million in fines and penalties. He could also be imprisoned for up to five years on the unlawful removal charge.