2 syndicates behind entry of dirty money at Naia, says Customs commissioner
They flew into the country carrying luggage stuffed with foreign currency and escorted by policemen and soldiers at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) for good measure.
The operation was so successful that couriers of two suspected crime syndicates were able to bring into the Philippines dirty money worth $370 million between July last year and January, the Department of Finance (DOF) said on Monday.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, citing a Jan. 29 report of Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, identified the two groups as “Chinese” and “Rodriguez.”
The Chinese group sneaked in $167.97 million between Dec. 17 last year and January, while the Rodriguez gang brought in $200.24 million from July 17 last year to January, according to Guerrero.
Guerrero thus confirmed Sen. Richard Gordon’s information that Chinese visitors were bringing foreign currencies into the Philippines, although the lawmaker said that $160 million came in from Dec. 17, 2019, to Feb. 12.
In the case of the Rodriguez group, the customs commissioner said its modus operandi was to infuse money into Excellent Forex Inc.
The couriers get paid P12,000 to P50,000 per flight and take trips twice or thrice a week carrying up to two pieces of luggage, Guerrero said.
Airport police escorts
The mules were “able to escape detection because they were escorted by members of the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines or [members of the] airport police department at the Manila International Airport Authority,” Dominguez quoted Guerrero as saying.
Amid the entry of dirty money via Naia, Dominguez has ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC), an agency under the DOF, to work with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
In his report, Dominguez quoted Guerrero as saying there had been “several attempts by individuals and groups to sneak in large amounts of US dollars and other foreign currency into the country using travelers arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.”
Guerrero recommended the setting up of an interagency body that would not only monitor foreign cash entering through the country’s various ports but also deter money laundering.
“[I]t is not farfetched that the ease of bringing foreign currency in our territory can be taken advantage of by lawless elements such as terrorists,” he said.
Laws ‘not deterrent enough’
The BOC chief pointed out that current laws covering undeclared and underdeclared foreign currency were “not categorical and sanctions provided are not deterrent enough.”
In the United States, he said, not declaring or underdeclaring foreign currency was tantamount to “bulk cash smuggling” with penalties “far more severe” than those prescribed by Philippine regulations.
He urged legislators to consider the huge sums of dirty money flowing into the country as “possible basis of policy changes in the protocol to be observed regarding hand-carried foreign currencies passing through our airports.”
Guerrero has informed the AMLC and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency about the foreign currency inflows.
Since 2018, the BOC has caught on three occasions two Filipinos and a South Korean who underdeclared or did not declare at all huge amounts of money beyond what was allowed by law, the DOF said.
An influx of dirty money could sour investor sentiment, according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia.
“We will not look good to the international finance community,” Pernia told reporters on Monday.
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