The shipments, all containerised, were for small quantities of consumer products and were due to be shipped into Lagos. The Bills of Lading were all purportedly for cargoes transported by major carriers and featured the logos of the respective liner companies.
IMB enquiries found that that the shipments had taken place on board the stated vessels, between the stated ports, however, the shipments had taken place up to three months prior the stated dates and often with carriers different to those on the presented Bills of Lading.
IMB Deputy Director Michael Howlett commented: “It is clear here that there have been underlying shipments in these cases, but the documents the IMB was asked to verify related to a different shipment. It would appear that bills of lading had already been issued by the physical carriers for the original shipments, suggesting that someone with a degree of inside knowledge had lifted these details wholesale and transposed them onto a set of false documents.”
It is common for different shipping companies to share slots on certain routes- for example, the name of a vessel owned by one well-known carrier may carry a shipment on behalf of another. In these cases, however, the only bill of lading to be issued would be that of the carrier through which the booking was made.
When enquiries were made with the purported carriers, they had no knowledge of the shipments. IMB analysts, however, were able to recognise the reference number format or container numbers to identify the actual physical carrier, who were then able to advise details of the genuine shipments and the current whereabouts of the containers.
Mr. Howlett continued: “This recent spate of suspicious documents emphasises the need for banks to carry out thorough checks, even on those transactions which appear to be genuine. In these cases, the information did relate to a shipment of the correct containers to the correct ports on the stated vessels. The problem was, however, that it had all happened months before the dates mentioned on the bills of lading and, in all likelihood, has been designed to wrongly draw funds under the documentary credit system.”
IMB recommends stringent due diligence checks on all parties involved in any major transaction, even on parties with established trading records. Furthermore, the Bureau advises that all details of the shipment appearing on the documents are verified independently to prevent losses.
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