SC junks smuggling charges vs oil firm

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THE Supreme Court (SC) has ruled that former acting Secretary Agnes Devanadera of the Department of Justice (DOJ) correctly held that there was no probable cause to indict Unioil Petroleum Philippines Inc. and its officers for smuggling of oil products from Oilink International Inc.’s depot in 2008.

In a 32-page decision last September 8, 2015 that was released to the media just recently, the High Court en banc affirmed a resolution dated December 28, 2009 of Devanadera that upheld the state prosecutor’s dismissal of the complaint-affidavit filed by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

“Wherefore, the petition is partly granted. The Court of Appeals [CA] resolutions dated March 26, 2010 and August 4, 2010… are reversed and set aside,” the ruling stated.

With respect to the officers and directors of Oilink, the SC held that “they may further be held liable jointly and severally for all damages suffered by the government on account of such violation of Sections 3602 and 3611 of the TCCP [Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines], upon clear and convincing proof that they willfully and knowingly voted for or assented to patently unlawful acts of the corporation or [were]guilty of gross negligence or bad faith in directing [their]corporate affairs.”

“This is without prejudice to the filing of the appropriate criminal and administrative charges under Sections 3602 and 3611 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines, as amended, against private respondents Oilink, its officers and directors, and Victor D. Piamonte, if the final results of the post-entry audit and examination would show that they violated the said provisions.”

The BOC filed the smuggling complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in December 2008, accusing Unioil for its allegedly illegal withdrawal of P181.99 million worth of oil products it consigned to Oilink’s facility in Bataan province.

In its ruling, the SC opined that since the allegations in the BOC’s complaint-affidavit fell short of acts or omissions constituting violations of the Customs code, then DOJ chief Devanadera correctly ruled that there was no probable cause to believe that Unioil committed such crimes.

“A careful reading of the BOC’s complaint-affidavit would show that there is no allegation to the effect that private respondents committed undervaluation, misdeclaration in weight, measurement or quantity of more than thirty percent [30 percent] between the value, weight, measurement or quantity declared in the entry, and the actual value, weight, quantity or measurement which constitute prima facie evidence of fraud,” the ruling said.

“Nor is there an allegation that [Unioil] intentionally committed undervaluation, misdescription, misclassification or misdeclaration in the import entry.”

While Devanadera correctly stated that the act of fraudulent importation of articles must be first proven in order to be charged for violation of Section 3601 of the TCCP, the SC disagreed that “proof of such importation is also required for various fraudulent practices against Customs revenue under Section 3602.”

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