AUTHORITIES have seized 603 metric tons (MT) of Thailand white rice, estimated to be worth P15.4 million in La Union, the Bureau of Customs said Thursday.

Importer Progressive Grains and Milling Corp. initially filed an Import Entry for 7,200 MT of white rice, which arrived at the Port of San Fernando, La Union on December 15. The company paid P46,064,232 worth of duties and other charges before the goods were released.

But after 144,000 sacks have been released from the port, Acting Chief Port Operations Officer Jose Guillermo withheld the succeeding releases after it was found that more than the declared importation quantity has been processed for exit.

"Upon verification, it was found that 603.15 MT rice were released outside the declared quantity, and that there is no import permit for the excess shipment," BOC said.

District Collector Romeo Rosales issued a warrant of seizure and detention on January 5 to effect the apprehension of released rice to the warehouse of a certain Celia Lui in Barangay Santa Maria, San Jacinto, Pangasinan.

As of January 16, BOC said it has seized 12,000 sacks and has transferred them to the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in San Juan, La Union for safekeeping pending investigation.

BOC said it will charge the importer with misdeclaration under the Customs and Modernization and Tariff Act and under Republic Act 10845, which penalizes agricultural smugglers and their cohorts with life imprisonment, and a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural products and the aggregate amount of the taxes/duties/charges avoided.

Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon has warned all agricultural importers that effective January 6, his office will not allow the entry of rice imports without securing an import permit from NFA. (SDR/Sunnex)