By Betheena Kae Unite
Another illegal operation within the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has been discovered and is suspected to be as big as the “tara” system, Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña revealed last Friday.
Twenty-five container vans allegedly containing misdeclared cargo were illegally spirited away from the container yard of the Mindanao Container Terminal in Tagaloan, Misamis Oriental on separate occasions in June and July.
This case is identical to the 105 container vans of ceramic tiles that slipped out of the Port of Manila two months ago.
A disappointed Lapeña faced media after the Port User’s Summit in Manila late Friday. He said that while the bureau is “busy putting up policy reforms, unscrupulous individuals or groups continue to lurk within and around the bureau and are still able to come up with wicked schemes to dupe the government for their selfish interests.”
“This scheme that surfaced is another skeleton in the closet,” the commissioner said.
On June 25, Lapeña said, he received information from a civilian informant about questionable shipments at the Mindanao Container Terminal, prompting him to issue alert orders covering various shipments.
On the same day, an alert order was issued for two container vans of sugar declared as pre-fabricated steel and consigned to JDan Trading.
On June 28, another alert order was issued covering eight container vans of onions and sugar consigned to Mave Trading and General Success Merchandise. The shipments were supposed to undergo immediate examination but it was discovered that all eight containers had been released illegally from the Mindanao International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (MICTSI) on June 14, 15, and 17.
On July 3, Lapeña again issued an alert order against 17 container vans consigned to Mave Trading, FVV Gracias Enterprises, and Melea RPL Enterprises.
“When MICTSI was asked to prepare the containers for inspection, MICTSI reported that those 17 containers had been released or withdrawn from their container yard on various dates – June 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, and 28, 2018, even before I ordered them alerted, and much worse even before entries were filed,” Lapeña bared.
“Twenty-five containers were illegally withdrawn from the MICTSI yard. Only eight containers were covered by entries and partially processed while the 17 containers were not covered by any entry. This is unacceptable,” the commissioner lamented.
Initial investigation showed that the containers were released using the pre-assessment single administrative document (SAD) printouts stamped with the words “subject for x-ray” and “for transfer to MCT-CCA (customs clearance area) as per CDO-CMO 1-2014 or valid for final release from CCA without gate pass issued by cargo control section.
“Containers intended for transfer to designated examination area can only be allowed after the issuance of delivery order by the shipping lines and equipment receipt from the arrastre operator. However, the delivery order and the receipt can only be issued upon presentation of the import entry with import entry number,” Lapeña said.
The Customs chief suspects the scheme is perpetrated by “well-organized syndicate operating inside and outside of the bureau in connivance with corrupt customs personnel.”
“I would say so (that this scheme is as big as the ‘tara system’). That’s what I suspect. That’s why we are having this investigation to get into the bottom of this. And I’m also monitoring other ports on this one,” Lapeña said when asked if the scheme behind the illegal release of alerted cargo is comparable to the infamous ‘tara’ system in the bureau.
Officials from the sub-port of Mindanao — the acting port collector, the deputy collector for assessment and several personnel from the enforcement and security service (ESS) and the x-ray inspection project — have been ordered relieved from their posts. They may face administrative and criminal charges, and worst dismissal from office, Lapeña said.
An investigation has been launched and agents from the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service is now in Cagayan De Oro to backtrack the shipments “in order to find out whether the same ploy had been used for previous shipments.”
“There is still so much to discover. We suspect that there are more but we cannot give the names yet, except those mentioned. There are evidences and testimonies na against them. The sub-port collector, he is a suspect. That’s the highest official involved,” Lapeña said.
Further, the importers accreditation of the involved consignees namely: Mave trading, General Success Merchandise, JDan Trading, FVV Gracias Enterprises, and Melea RPL Enterprises have been revoked. The accreditation of customs Raul de Leon, Jr has likewise been revoked.
Lapeña said the liability of the MICTSI on the incident will be determined once the investigation is completed. He flew to Mindanao yesterday to look into the case himself.
“I will go after these people. I will make them pay for this deplorable act,” the commissioner warned.