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If the price is right! Cash mules pay off Customs officials to smuggle money into PH

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By Nancy Carvajal

FOREIGN currency mules and big -time gamblers have allegedly been the milking cows of corrupt personnel manning the terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, various sources told Politoko.com.

The sources familiar with the illegal activities provided details on how the airport racket works.

Although bringing in large amount of foreign currency in to the country is not prohibited by law, corruption comes into play when cargo is not properly declared before the Bureau of Customs and legitimacy of the source and use of the huge cash could not be explained.

The entry of large foreign currency also becomes questionable if the courier travels almost daily with large amount of cash.

Grease money

According to the source, cash mules usually has an “arrangement with BOC personnel to avoid being questioned or worse detained.”

“For a smooth exit, cash mules or couriers had to shell out at least P500,000 per trip. Kanya –kanyang alaga sa cash mules. There are Filipino dollar mules who travels almost daily, ang pinakamatagal na gap is 3 days,,’’’ the source said.

Under the Philippine law, any Filipino or not, entering the country has to declare before the BOC amounts he is carrying in excess of $10,000.

The Customs officials are required to submit the declaration forms to AMLC within first 10 days of every month.

The BOC has the authority to seize and apprehend cash smugglers.

More than what has been reported and is way beyond

The source added that the cash that entered the country through cash mules from from Hongkong and Singapore are more than what has been reported to AMLC.

According to Senator Richard Gordon around P22.69 billion or $447 million were brought to the country from September 2019 to February 2020 by 47 passengers either from Hongkong or Singapore, based on the BOC records.

“ What were reported was incomplete, what entered our airports is way beyond what has been reported in the Senate,’ the source said.

The source added that with the tens of thousands of passengers arriving at the three terminals, the cash mules could easily get lost in the crowd.

Based on the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) records, the daily average number of international passenger arrival is around 35,000.

Marked cargo

BOC officials has information if a cargo or box contained contrabands.

“Airport customs officers know which cargo has contrabands because it passes through an x-ray before the baggage were dropped to various conveyors,’’ the source explained.

The source added that cartoon boxes containing questionable cargo are marked X using a pentelpen, while bags and luggages are marked using a white chalk.

LOG BOOK

The source explained that the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Security Emergency Service keeps a log book that records incidents in the various terminals.

The CIIS are the ones who conducts investigation and reports them to the BOC Commissioner.

The Airport BOC log book, the source said could be likened to a police blotter that records all complaints and incidents including apprehensions of cash couriers.

The log book contained details such as: passengers name, flight number, amount of foreign currency and country of origin.

“The log book is useful in tracing the identities and details of cash mules,’’ the source said.

Paper trail

The source further shared that the documentation of cash entries to the country suspected contrabands starts from the customs declaration forms which are submitted to a duty customs examiner, who in turn give it to the CIIS) and then to the office of the BOC Commissioner, then to the AMLC.

“The document ultimately reaches the Commissioner’s desk, who can give the green light to exempt or require the violator full payment, or charged the cash smuggler,’’ the source said.

Cash mules

The Rodriguez family

Based on various documents, the Rodriguez group is composed of seven individuals namely; Simon John Rodriguez, John Joshua Rodriguez, Natasha Rodriguez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Janet Rodriguez, Mary Rose Rodriguez, Michael Julian Rodriguez Calderon travelled 142 times, bringing in more than $109 million or P5,565,072,894.87.

Unhampered operation of the Rodriguez group

What is noteworthy is that even after one of them Simon John Rodriguez was apprehended, the rest of the Rodriguez group continues to bring in large amount of foreign currency in the country in almost daily basis, the records show.

Elizabeth has the most number of trips -45 times and has the most cash brought in $34, 653, 832.

She is followed by John Joshua Rodriguez, with 40 trips, bringing in a total of $32 million.

Apprehended and charged

Court records show that on Sept. 26, Simon John Rodriguez was arrested by Custom Officer Tomas Maranan and was brought to Pasay City Prosecutors Office for non -declaration of $700 thousand he was carrying.

Five months after, on a resolution dated Feb 24, 2020 Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Ju-Hares Tolentino charged Simon of fraudulently importing foreign currency, if convicted carries a penalty of not less than one year imprisonment.

In his defense, Simon said he is acting as courier of a foreign exchange company based in Makati.

The travel period of the Rodriguez group started in July 2019 , and picked up pace from September to February 2020, with Elizabeth on top of the list, having recorded the most number -45 trips either from Hongkong or Singapore.

The record show that the Rodriguez group alternately travel in almost daily frequency.

A document presented by Senator Gordon in a senate hearing indicated that the Rodriguez group is connected to a Singaporean syndicate operating as money launderers and has possible links to terrorism.

GAMBLERS

Meanwhile, gamblers trying to bring cash to the country are also being milked by corrupt airport and Customs personnel, another source said.

Hotel and Casino representatives are now barred to assist, would be customers inside restricted areas in the airport.

“Most of these tourist –gamblers cannot write in English in the Customs Declaration Form., these is where the airport police come in, minsan ginigipit nila yung turista to offer a bribe, yung matigas talaga, tinutuluyan ng kaso,’’ the source said.

BIG TIME gamblers

Meanwhile, high rollers and big -time gamblers are being assisted by personnel of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation or PAGCOR.

“Sinasalubong sila ng PAGCOR personnel, we see them because of the ID they are wearing,’’ the source added.

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