Rice smuggling rampant – sources

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MORE than a year after the Aquino administration launched a massive crackdown on rice smuggling, the illegal trade remains rampant at the Bureau of Customs (BoC), according to reliable sources.

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A total of 21,640 sacks worth at least P22 million was recently intercepted and seized at the Port of Zamboanga.

The sources, however, said on Monday that the Customs bureau seized this shipment just for show, with the bigger ones allowed to slip through the port.

“They seized one shipload but let go of two others. That’s how it works. Of course, with the connivance of corrupt Customs officials,” they added.

The confiscated shipment consisted 7,763 sacks of white rice, 3,072 sacks of well- milled rice and 10,805 sacks of glutinous rice.

The BoC said the shipment would be sold at a public auction next week through sealed bidding in Zamboanga.

But Zamboanga District Collector Jerry Loreso also on Monday said proceeds from the auction would be held in trust by the BoC as the shipment in question is still subject of ongoing cases.

Earlier, Customs Commissioner John Sevilla suspended the accreditation of 70 importers and 45 Customs brokers who have repeatedly violated Customs policies and procedures in filing import documents.

The suspension, he said, is part of the bureau’s continuing efforts to reform the allegedly graft-ridden agency.

Sevilla added that all those ordered suspended will no longer be allowed to file import entries as they have already lost their privilege to import goods.

He explained that non-disclosure of detailed product descriptions for imported goods is a form of technical smuggling.

“This is all part of the crackdown [on]erring firms,” the Customs chief said.

This is the first time that a big number of accredited importers and brokers was sanctioned for non-compliance with BOC rules and procedures.

Port observers said many of the suspended importers and brokers were used as dummies or fronts by well-known “big time” players cum smugglers in cahoots with allegedly corrupt Customs officials and employees.

Customs sources have identified some of the big players who used dummy companies in smuggling rice, sugar, resin and computers, among other goods and products.Rice and sugar are prohibited importations that are subject to approval from the National Food Authority and Sugar Regulatory Commission, respectively.

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