Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Importers’ documents for sale to smugglers

By William B. Depasupil, Reporter

ACCREDITATION of importers at the Bureau of Customs is for sale, one of the reasons the bureau is having a hard time running after big-time smugglers.

The accreditation for sale racket was confirmed to The Manila Times by a highly reliable Customs source following a series of seizures of smuggled goods worth hundreds of millions of pesos by Customs combined and Presidential Antismuggling Group (PASG) agents. The importers were found to be fictitious.

“Anybody could get a hassle-free accreditation if you come across with them [corrupt personnel],” the source said, adding that “it ranges from P30,000 to P50,000.” He added:

“You will be spared from the usual routine inspection and other documentary requirements, and you get your accreditation within the day.”

The Times has learned that there were some 15,000 accredited importers. In applying for accreditation, one needs to submit all the legal requisites, like business registration papers, and other documents to prove the firm’s legitimacy.

In addition, an actual verification of the office address and a photo of the business location and registered name outside should also be made by authorized Customs personnel.

Commissioner Napoleon Morales vowed to address the perennial problem of spurious accreditation as he ordered an immediate inventory of all accredited importers to determine if they have complied with the requirements.

“I am directing Deputy Commissioner [Reynaldo] Umali to explain if those importers were accredited,” Morales told The Times. “If they are accredited but turned out to be fictitious, they [Umali] will answer for it.”

Morales has earlier transferred the authority to accredit importers and brokers to the Customs legal service from the Customs intelligence and investigation service.

Umali, aside from being a deputy commissioner, is also the head of the accreditation unit and the legal division. Ironically, Umali is also concurrent executive director of the Run After the Smugglers (RATS) program of the bureau.

The Times called up Umali twice yesterday to get his side but nobody answered the phone in his office.

Records show that the RATS unit has filed more than a hundred cases against suspected smugglers before the justice department, but none could be considered a “big fish.”

Recently, Customs and PASG men seized P200-million worth of regulated and highly-taxable goods. Follow-up investigation, however, revealed that the consignees were fictitious.

“We verified the addresses listed but we found out that they were nonexistent,” Undersecretary Antonio Villar, the PASG chief, said

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