The CNMI Division of Customs intercepted a contraband shipment of liquor and drugs in one of their routine inspections this month.
A total of 140 cases of assorted liquor carefully positioned in the back of the truck, as well as 4,600 capsules of antibiotics hidden inside a box of butter cookies, came with a shipment from Manila, the Philippines, and intercepted by Customs officials in Feb. 12.
The violator of this interception, JU YI Corp., was assessed a penalty, which has been paid in full.
Customs planner and public information officer Lareina C. Camacho said that, had Customs not inspected the container upon its arrival, it would have meant a loss of $10,000 for the CNMI.
Based on the importer’s declaration, the tax owed was initially calculated at $9,700. Upon the discovery of these hidden and smuggled items—the undeclared liquor and the antibiotics—the total taxes due actually rose to $19,000, Camacho said.
Camacho added that the street value or the approximate value of the antibiotic is $1 per capsule and, with 4,600 capsules in all, that would have been an estimated $4,600 loss to the CNMI.
“This is one of the many challenges that we face at the ports: companies that attempt to smuggle goods and/or falsify their invoices in order to cheat the government and the CNMI community,” she said.
Customs warns all importers, businesses, and to everyone in the community that not declaring goods, or under-declaring, will have repercussion.
According to the law, the penalty for contraband items is equivalent to 100% of the value of the goods or commodities. The regulations assess a fine that must be paid in full before the release of the container.
The importer will also be on a “high risk” list and future imports will be inspected 100%.
Customs wants to emphasize, especially with regards to antibiotics, that there is a health risk in buying or using prescription drugs without a prescription. Antibiotics can only be imported by those with a medical license or by medical professionals, and not just by any person.
Finance Secretary David Atalig warned that the antibiotics were not only undeclared, but that there are no assurances that they are genuine.
““This is a health risk. It could be counterfeit and if the public are buying this, we could risk their health and their families,” Atalig said. “We want to make sure that if you feel like purchasing any drugs from any stores in the Commonwealth, please refrain from doing so and go to the licensed pharmacies that are licensed to give you the actual, genuine drug.”
Customs Division director Jose C. Mafnas said that they have made it a priority to monitor counterfeit goods, especially medicines, adding that it was a concern raised at the Oceanea Customs Organization where concern on counterfeit medicines had been discussed.
“It is really a health risk. At this time, we are going after [smugglers of counterfeit medicines]. We’re going to treat it as drug smuggling. We are concerned and we will be enforcing it,” Mafnas added.
While the liquor has been released following the full payment of taxes and penalties, Customs is currently working with its partners in having the antibiotics destroyed as the drugs are not allowed for import to the islands.
“We will continue to do our work to ensure that businesses are on the same playing field and that they’re reporting property, and that’s only for the benefit of our community, the consumers on this island,” Atalig said.
As for Customs, Mafnas said that they will start naming the businesses that are involved in these illegal transactions from hereon.
“We want to send a strong message to businesses that are trying to make quick profits by undermining the honest taxpayers. So we’re going to start shooting out messages and we will publish their names. This has to stop. It is not fair for those that are honest in their declaration.”