Supermarket owner tied to ‘lost’ cargo containers
Two warehouse operators have identified Lucio Co of the supermarket chain Puregold Price Club Inc. as the owner of imported goods believed to be part of the cargoes of some 1,900 containers reported missing from the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port early this year, according to an intelligence officer of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Simeon Caparroso Jr., a member of the BOC intelligence division, said Jimmy Go of Uni-Nexus Trading and Conrado Ybañez of Intercontinental Trading, who were arrested in separate raids, told him that Co had ordered a change in delivery plans a week before the raids last week. (Go’s brother-in-law, Sonny Angeles, was the listed owner of Uni-Nexus Trading.)
In his spot report to the BOC intelligence division chief, Caparroso said Co had asked Go and Ybañez to bring the goods to other warehouses that the two were running instead of bringing the shipments to a Pasig City warehouse. However, the two refused to reveal the locations of the other warehouses.
The BOC intelligence team has identified the new warehouse destinations of the commodities and has secured a warrant to conduct a raid on it this week, Caparroso said.
Raids in Caloocan, QC
Outgoing Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez led a raid on Sept. 9 on a Caloocan City warehouse where the cargoes of 50 of the missing containers were believed hidden.
The raid on the warehouse on No. 63 C-3 Road in Dagat-Dagatan yielded P50 million worth of allegedly smuggled sugar and rice.
The BOC team also conducted a raid on Intercontinental Trading’s warehouse on Tomas Morato Street in Quezon City.
But no goods were confiscated in the warehouse as it was primarily used to repack allegedly smuggled rice and sugar from Thailand and Vietnam for resale in Puregold and S&R superstores, according to Caparroso.
Importing rice and sugar has strict volume restrictions to protect Filipino farmers.
Alvarez said the sugar and rice that the BOC had seized from Uni-Nexus would fit 50 container trucks.
He believed that these goods were part of the missing container vans in the first half the year that left the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port but never reached their transshipment point, the Port of Batangas.
Alvarez has filed charges against 14 BOC employees, including two deputy collectors for operations, for grave misconduct and gross negligence for their alleged culpability in the missing 1,910 containers.
At a hearing of the House of Representatives on Aug. 15, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said: “A report given to me by reliable sources states that a Boy Valenzuela facilitated the loss or smuggling of the 1,910 containers and that he delivered a bulk thereof to Puregold.”
Later that day, Puregold issued a statement that “all business transactions of Puregold are based on completely legal and aboveboard procedures.”
Caparroso obtained copies of official delivery receipts showing that the goods were indeed received by Puregold.
In a statement issued yesterday, Puregold president Leonardo S. Dayao said the company had nothing to do with the container vans that the BOC seized on Sept. 9.
Dayao said officials of Puregold had denied knowing Go and Angeles of Uni-Nexus Trading.
But Dayao acknowledged that Ybañez of Intercontinental Trading was a supplier of Puregold and other supermarkets.
In a letter to Puregold, Ybañez said his warehouse at the time of the raid contained legally imported and properly documented Thailand jasmine rice, according to Dayao.
Documents have been submitted and duly acknowledged by the BOC, he added.
“It is unfair that Puregold is being singled out as the sole client of Intercontinental Trading for the repackaged rice intended for distribution to supermarkets including SM Savemore, Shopwise, Rustans, aside from Puregold,” Dayao said.
Puregold, which currently has 72 stores operating nationwide, seeks to increase its branch network to 100 stores.
The supermarket chain is scheduled to launch on Sept. 21 an initial public offering (IPO) that it hopes could raise up to P12.4 billion for its expansion. The offer will close on Sept. 29, with the listing set on Oct. 5.
Puregold intends to put up 25 more stores next year and another 25 in 2013.
The shares to be offered represent 34.5 percent of Puregold’s issued and outstanding capital stock after the IPO.
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