NBI recommends filing graft charges against Lapeña
Former Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña, who was removed from his post after admitting that P11 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) had slipped past the Bureau of Customs (BOC), is facing graft charges over the disappearance of 105 freight containers filled with ceramic tiles amounting to P69 million.
On Monday, the National Bureau of Investigation asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hold Lapeña criminally liable for violation of Section 3, Paragraph(e) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
The NBI also moved for Lapeña’s indictment for the administrative offense of gross neglect of duty and grave misconduct.
It was not clear why the NBI, the primary law enforcement unit of the DOJ, brought the cases before the justice department and not the Office of the Ombudsman, the constitutional body created to prosecute criminal cases against senior government officials.
The charges stemmed from the unlawful release of the tile shipment from the Port of Manila in March.
The containers were initially declared missing by the BOC.
According to the NBI, the containers were released by the port operator, Asian Terminals Inc. (ATI), in two batches after Lapeña failed to issue alert orders through the electronic system of the BOC.
The BOC had previously filed criminal charges against the registered importers, customs brokers and ATI personnel over the release of the containers, which were allegedly covered by “forged documents.”
“Following the procedures strictly could have prevented the presentation of the forged memoranda, thus, the taxes due to the government should have been settled before the release of the shipment,” the NBI said in its 34-page complaint.
“In this case, had Lapeña followed the procedures and utilized the (electronic system) and issued ‘special stop’ to hold the release of the shipments… the use of the falsified memoranda allowing the lifting of the alert order should have been avoided,” it said.
The electronic system allows BOC officials to use technology, such as electronic signatures, to safeguard cargo, fight corruption and improve trade efficiency.
Dismissal from service
The actions of Lapeña and the officials under him “constitute grave negligence and grave misconduct that would warrant their dismissal [from the service],” the NBI said.
Lapeña is now head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, where President Duterte moved him amid a scandal involving the smuggling of 1.6 tons of shabu through Manila International Container Terminal in July.
Mr. Duterte put the BOC under temporary military control after Lapeña acknowledged last month that that much shabu possibly slipped past the agency.
The President also appointed Rey Leonardo Guerrero, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to head the BOC. —With a report from Aie Balagtas See
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