PH Customs chief bares list of importers “under investigation”

PH Customs chief bares list of importers “under investigation”

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Philippine Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon (right) at a press conference presenting the initial list of importers and customs brokers under investigation by the agency. With him is Customs Accounts Management Office chief Atty. Mary Grace Malabed.

The Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) has released an initial list of 71 importers and their customs brokers under investigation due to seized shipments.

The list was announced by Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon in a press conference on Jan 13.

Of the total, 44 are importers with seized shipments at the Port of Manila (POM) while 27 importers have seized shipments in Manila International Container Port (MICP) covering the period July to December 2016.

Included in the list is publicly listed company Megawide Construction Corp.

For a list of MICP importers under investigation, click here; for the POM list, click here.

Pending results of the investigation, the 71 importers and their customs brokers may still transact with BOC, according to BOC Accounts Management Office (AMO) chief Atty. Mary Grace Malabed, who was also at the Jan 13 press conference.

List causes confusion

There has been confusion though on what being part of the list meant.

In a television interview on January 11, Faeldon had said over 1,000 importers and customs brokers have been “delisted and banned” from transacting with BOC.

In that interview, he said the initial list—details of which were not released–included big-time importers that have repeatedly overstepped customs rules and yet no cases have been filed against them. Some companies, he noted, shared the same names while others have the same personalities behind them.

A day after the interview on January 12, the BOC uploaded on its website and Facebook page the initial list of 184 importers and customs brokers which, it said, had seized shipments and were “under investigation”. BOC also advised the public to “refrain from transacting or doing business with any of the importers included in the list.”

For a list of the 184 importers released on Jan 12, click here.

Of the 184, 127 are importers with seized shipments from the Port of Manila, MICP, Clark, Iloilo, Zamboanga, and Legaspi. The 57 customs brokers, meanwhile, have seized shipments in Port of Manila, MICP, and Clark.

Some of the big names in the Jan 12 list are publicly listed companies BDO Leasing and Finance, Inc., Cebu Air, Inc., and Megawide Construction.

Logistics companies LBC System, Inc. and UPS are also included but classified under customs brokers, along with government agency National Food Authority (classified as importer).

But after a few hours, this list was taken down because, according to a staff at the BOC Public Information and Assistance Division, Faeldon wanted to formally announce the same in a press conference on January 13.

Involved in illicit trade

At the Jan 13 press conference, Faeldon presented an initial list, but only for the Port of Manila and MICP. He reiterated that the companies in the list had “practiced illicit trade” from July to December 2016. (Faeldon assumed office in July.) He said the companies have been “delisted” from accreditation.

In an interview with some reporters after the press conference, however, Malabed said the commissioner could have just been “excited”, noting that the companies have actually not been delisted.

“Currently, they can still (transact with BOC),” she explained, adding that BOC has to comply with the due process under the law.

She said the BOC has to give importers and customs brokers “time before totally cutting their access” to the agency.

Malabed said her office started sending show cause orders to the initial batch of importers and customs brokers on January 10.

Companies, she explained, have three days after receipt of the order to reply and explain why they should not be delisted. She noted that the deadline for responding to the order has been indicated in the email and mail sent by AMO.

Asked if an extension will be given to importers which may not have received their show cause order due to a change in contact details, Malabed said this was unlikely since importers and customs brokers are required to report to AMO changes in their contact details.

If the companies fail to respond or the investigation shows they violated customs rules, a recommendation for suspension of accreditation will be sent to the importer or customs broker, she said.

And even then, Malabed noted importers and customs brokers may still file for a motion for reconsideration to the Customs commissioner.

As of the morning of Jan 13, Malabed said five of the 71 importers have already responded.

In 2014, BOC also suspended 70 traders and 40 customs brokers for violation of Customs Administrative Order No. 08-2007 and Customs Memorandum Order No. 28-2007, both of which state that imported articles must be described in sufficient detail for proper valuation and tariff classification. The suspension was lifted after a week. – Roumina Pablo

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