Cigarette smugglers find new scheme amid COVID

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    The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has seized P2.2 billion-worth of smuggled cigarettes and other related paraphernalia in various ports from May 28 to July 15, the Department of Finance (DOF) said in a statement yesterday, as it continued to intensify its campaign against smuggling even during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

    In a report to Carlos Dominguez, DOF secretary, the BOC said recently seized items included an estimated P53 million-worth of cigarettes sneaked into the country from China through a suspected new smuggling scheme.

    Rey Leonardo Guerrero, customs commissioner, said in his report to Dominguez the shipment confiscated last July 12 in the Port of Davao had originated from Ningbo, China and was transported by SITC Container Lines Philippines Inc. to the country.

    Contained in two 2×40 footer containers, its consignee, Golden Aark Enterprise, declared the shipment as tissue paper.

    The shipment first entered the country through the subport of the Mindanao Container Terminal in Misamis Oriental, where it was first declared as containing tissue paper and bound for the Port of Davao.

    “But when the cargo reached its final destination, the containers of smuggled cigarettes were not included in its inward foreign manifest despite other customs documents proving the existence of the shipment,” the DOF said.

    “After the BOC and coast guard boarded the vessel, it was determined that the containers were on-board the vessel and that they were destined for Port of Davao,” it added.

    This discrepancy, along with information received by the BOC’s Intelligence Group regarding the suspected smuggled items, led customs officials to seize the shipment at the Port of Davao.

    Guerrero has ordered the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service to investigate this new modus operandi in smuggling cigarettes into the country.

    “Rest assured that the men and women of the BOC will remain vigilant and committed in securing our country’s borders against smuggling and other customs fraud,” Guerrero said in his report.

    Guerrero said the accreditation of Golden Aark has already been revoked and appropriate charges will be filed against the firm and its cohorts.

    “From said circumstances, there is prima facie evidence that the carrier, SITC Container Lines Philippines Inc., is abetting the consignee in concealing/smuggling the seized contraband in violation of Republic Act No. 10863 (Customs Modernization and Tariff Act),” Guerrero said.

    Meanwhile, the BOC has also been undertaking measures to facilitate and minimize disruption in the movement of critical medical equipment and supplies entering the ports, the DOF said, since President Duterte put the entire country under a state of public health emergency in March.

    The BOC has confiscated P244 million-worth of smuggled, unregistered or counterfeit personal protective equipment and other medical supplies since March 25 up to May 31, 2020, as part of its ongoing efforts to stop the illegal importation, storage and hoarding of goods deemed essential to the fight against COVID-19, the DOF said.