President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he has ordered the arrest of Alex Wong Chu King, owner of local cigarette manufacturer Mighty Corp., for the alleged use of fake cigarette tax stamps.
“Yes. I ordered his arrest. He’s the one behind the fake cigarette stamps,” Duterte told reporters. Mighty Corp. is facing a P1-billion tax evasion case over the use of fake cigarette tax stamps.
“It’s not a matter of BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue). Tax laws. It’s falsification,” the President said.
Duterte’s order came after the Bureau of Customs seized fake cigarettes worth P2 billion, including Mighty products with fake tax stamps, in a series of raids conducted last week in Pampanga.
Mighty Corp. had denied any wrongdoing, saying it is not in the business of producing fake cigarette products.
On Tuesday afternoon, Wong Chu King met with officials of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. The NBI did not disclose the agenda of the meeting.
In a statement, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that Duterte ordered the arrest of Wong Chu King.
“He was ordered arrested by the President because of economic sabotage,” Panelo told reporters.
“Marami siyang ginagawa saka pinangangalandakan niyang nabibili niya lahat ng opisyales dito sa ating bansa eh [He has been doing a lot of things and he has been boasting that he can buy all officials],” he added.
Panelo said the President gave the order after he revealed to Cabinet officials that he received a package that contained a pile of cash.
“The President thought it was wine but when Bong Go, Special Assistant to the President, opened it, he saw it was full of cash. So he ordered it returned to the sender. They were able to catch them in the airplane,” he said.
But when asked if the cigarette firm tried to bribe him, Duterte said there was no bribery attempt.
“There was no bribery because they did not say anything. I gave it to Bong. I do not drink. But when my aide opened it, there was money. So I told him to give it back. He caught up with them in the plane,” the President said.
Nothing to hide
Sigfried Fortun, legal counsel of Mighty Corp., accompanied Wong Chu King to the Justice department on Tuesday.
Fortun said the cigarette company has nothing to hide and has committed no wrong.
He said no complaint has been filed against Wong Chu King and his company.
Fortun said Mighty will fully cooperate with government officials conducting an investigation.
As to the alleged bribery attempt, Fortun said it was the first time they heard about the incident.
“That’s totally new. That was not taken up in the meeting,” he told reporters.
Red and green
Mighty Corp. however said that the validating devices used to determine the authenticity of tax stamps produced varying results when used on the seized cigarettes.
Fortun said in a statement that when the devices were used by BIR examiners on boxes bearing Mighty cigarettes, they registered a green light indicating that these were genuine stamps. However, the devices also showed red light when used on other products. A red light means the stamp is fake.
“When the device was used to test tax stamps on products of its competitors brought in by one of the agents, the device also turned red indicating that the competitors’ stamp were fake,” Fortun said. He added that the BIR should also sue and send notices of tax assessment to Mighty’s competitors.
The company also questioned the raid on Mighty’s warehouse in Pampanga, saying a BIR inspection team was “belatedly” authorized by its head office to inspect the excise stamps on Mighty cigarettes after the company questioned the validity of the letter of authority used to justify the seizure of genuine cigarettes it produced.
Fortun said the procedure “cannot undo the invalid raid conducted with the help of mission orders issued the Bureau of Customs as all items confiscated are now tainted for being fruits of an unlawful seizure order.”
WITH A REPORT FROM Jomar Canlas