Customs seizes 234 cases of liquor, 1,180 cartons of cigarettes from PH
Tag: Greg Sablan, people, Philippines, Puerto Rico
The Division of Customs seized over 200 cases of liquor and more than 1,000 cartons of cigarettes loaded inside a 20-foot container from the Philippines after the importer failed to declare the items.
Customs director Jose C. Mafnas said the container arrived last Nov. 15 and was immediately subjected to 100 percent inspection by Customs officials.
“The consignee came for the release but prior to opening the container, the consignee kind of mentioned and apologized because he said they brought in liquor that they didn’t declare. He also said there were cigarettes inside the container.”
Mafnas said Customs officers themselves unloaded the container, already knowing that there were undeclared cargo and contraband inside and that’s when they found out that the smuggled items were concealed in mislabeled boxes.
“As you can see the boxes are labeled ‘vinegar’ but inside it’s Emperador Brandy. In the other boxes, the smaller ones they are labeled ‘bay leaf,’ ‘turmeric,” “kasuba (saffron),” and other spices but really inside are cigarettes like Marlboro and Phillip brands. The other boxes are labeled ‘soy sauce’ but inside there are Ginebra gin bottles,” he said.
In all, Mafnas said, Customs discovered 234 cases of liquor that were not declared.
“It’s not illegal, they’re just not declared. After meeting with the senior officers, rather than storing this for life and waiting for the case to be resolved, we decided to just collect the taxes. If this container went through undetected, the government would lose $12,800 in taxes.”
On top of the close to $13,000 in taxes Customs will impose, Mafnas said they will also assess a fine of $22,200 on the importer for bringing in the smuggled items.
“We’re looking at close to $35,000. Everything that was spent by the government will be collected, even for the labor for unloading the container, we will pass that to the importer. We want to send a strong message out there that if you do plan to smuggle, when you get caught you will pay the price.”
The Customs chief said they have no choice but make an example out of this latest attempt to smuggle items into the CNMI.
“These type of smugglers, we call them tax cheaters, and it really bothers me because there are legitimate distributors on island, especially for the Marlboro brand of cigarettes. Their cigarettes are slowly moving from their shelves and that’s because of these types of importers that are…having an effect on legitimate businesses. I’m happy with the officers involved. It was a four-day project just to unload and do inventory.”
Aside from the 234 cases of liquor, the container also included 1,180 cartons of cigarettes. Mafnas said the contraband cigarettes are tied with the Min Yang Market case reported by newspapers a week ago.
Seaport manager Capt. Greg Sablan said as a matter of policy Customs usually conducts 100 percent inspection on cargo coming from the Philippines and China.
“All those cargoes are subject to 100 percent inspection. Of the five containers you will bring in we’ll inspect four and we kind of give you the fifth one as random because it’s costly also to the businesses to hire people to offload them.”
Customs Lt. Jessie Atalig, for his part, echoed Mafnas’ warning to parties attempting to smuggle contraband items into the islands.
“It’s really important because it sends a clear message to businesses that plan to smuggle cigarettes that are considered contraband and with the liquor you have legit consignees out there that sell liquor and pay the taxes. We try to send a message to people who try to smuggle these in so we can put a stop to it and collect the right taxes we need to collect for the government.”