THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) filed technical smuggling charges against officers of two sister companies based in Escolta in Manila for defrauding the government of some P38-million worth of revenues.

Criminal charges were filed at the Department of Justice against David Manuel Ubarde, Enrico de Castro, Rex Butuan, and Edwin Benito, all incorporators of Plum Blossom Import-Export Food Corp., and Manolo Antonio Medel, proprietor of Full Story Source Marketing.

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The firms are allegedly engaged in the illegal importation of rice and for not declaring their cargo as it is.

BOC Commissioner Lito Alvarez said the respondents were liable for violation of Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code (falsification of commercial documents); Section 3601 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (failure to secure import permit); and Section 3602 of the TCCP (intentional and fraudulent misdeclaration).

This is the second case filed by the BOC against owners of corporations under its Run After The Smugglers (RATS) program in line with the Aquino government’s campaign against smugglers and tax evaders.

In a press briefing, Alvarez said the bureau also included as respondent in the complaint customs brokers Allan J.V. Gahon and several John/Jane Does whose identities would be made known after the completion of ongoing investigations.

The case covered only four import entry declarations of “mung beans” from Vietnam stashed in several 84 x 20 foot container vans, which arrived last June 17 and was released the following day without paying customs duties or taxes.

Mung beans may be imported tariff-free in both customs duties and value added tax under the Asian Free Trade Agreement, while rice imports require government clearances such as an import permit from the National Food Authority. It is also subject to 50-percent duty and payment of 12-percent VAT.

“If correctly declared, the BOC should have collected over P10 million representing duties and taxes but since the subject shipments were misdeclared and were fraudulently imported, the shipment worth over P38 million should have been forfeited in favor of the government,” said Alvarez.

He further noted that this might just be the tip of the iceberg and the government may have been defrauded of more taxes since records show that between 2008 and 2009, Plum Blossom and Full Story cleared 102 entries involving at least 2,400 containers of mung beans.

“The shipments which come either from Vietnam or Thailand pass through either the Port of Manila or the Manila International Container Port. Vietnam is not even a mung bean exporting country,” Alvarez pointed out.

Full Story’s case, on the other hand, is likewise dubious, Alvarez said, noting it is listed as a single proprietorship business holding office in a 10 square meter space on the third floor of a building in Escolta, just beside the much bigger office of Plum Blossom on the same building.

Lawyer Gregorio Chavez, Deputy Customs Commissioner for Revenue Collection and Monitoring Group said his group started looking into the liability of customs employees assigned in the Entry Processing Unit, Formal Entry Division and other units, which processed and released the shipments in question.

“Obviously, the shipments of white rice were declared in the import entry document as mung beans to go around government’s importation permit requirements as well as avoid payment of duties and taxes,” he said.

Chavez added that he had issued an order that records of past importations of mung beans be retrieved and their import entry declarations verified against the corresponding Inward Foreign Manifest and Bill of Lading to determine if the same pattern of deception/misdeclaration was used in other shipments. (JCV/Sunnex)