Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has directed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to closely coordinate with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in investigating attempts by suspected syndicates to bring in large sums of foreign currency into the country.
Dominguez issued the order after receiving a written report from Customs commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero about 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 the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
Guerrero said that last year, an estimated $370 million or around P18.74 billion were brought into the country by two groups, identified in his report as the “Rodriguez” and the “Chinese” groups.
The BOC chief recommended to Dominguez the creation of an interagency body to keep tabs on the inflow of foreign currency into the country via the country’s ports of entry, and to recommend measures to deter the use of these funds for illegal activities.
Through backtracking and the intensified monitoring activities of the BOC’s Intelligence Group, Guerrero said the bureau learned that foreign currencies brought in by the Rodriguez Group through the NAIA amounted to about $200.24 million or around P10.18 billion; while the Chinese group was able to sneak in $167.97 million, equivalent to about P8.54 billion.
Guerrero said the BOC also informed members of the Congress about this concern, “as possible basis of policy changes on the protocol to be observed regarding hand-carried foreign currencies passing through our airports.”
The AMLC and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) were also apprised by the BOC of this unusual influx of foreign currencies, he said.
“Given the global threat of terrorism, organized crimes, money laundering and the possibility that such foreign currencies find their way to such unlawful activities, it is respectfully recommended that an inter-agency body be established through a presidential directive, purposedly organized to monitor the continuous inflow of foreign currencies by individual couriers, profile the personalities involved and the recipient thereof, and recommend measures to ensure that such sums of money will not be used in any illegal trade or activities,” Guerrero said in his report.
He pointed out in his report, dated January 29, that the country’s laws on undeclared and underdeclared foreign currencies are “not categorical, and sanctions provided are not deterrent enough,” unlike in other countries.
In the United States, for instance, Guerrero said such attempts to underdeclare or not declare currency is defined as bulk cash smuggling and the penalties are far more severe than those provided under Philippine laws.
“Thus, it is not farfetched that the ease of bringing foreign currency in our territory can be taken advantage of by lawless elements such as terrorists,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero said the BOC found out that Rodriguez group had declared Excellent Forex Inc. as its recipient of the money, which entered the country from July 17, 2019 to January this year, while the Chinese group brought in its stash from December 17, 2019 to January, Guerrero said.
He said the BOC learned that the couriers of the money are paid between P12,000 and P50,000 per flight.
These couriers travel almost twice or thrice a week and carry about one to two pieces of luggage, he said, and are able to escape detection because they are escorted by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines or of the airport police department at the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).
“Alarmed by the foregoing circumstances, considering the apparent intent of the said groups to bypass the country’s banking system and its prevailing regulations, this Bureau coordinated with and brought the matter to the attention of the AMLC. Since then, this Bureau and the AMLC remain in close communication regarding this concern. The NICA was likewise apprised of the said facts,” Guerrero said in his report.
Guerrero said the BOC foiled an attempt by a Korean citizen last November 30, 2018 to bring into the country HK$3.83 million, which was not declared upon his arrival at the NAIA. The money was forfeited by the bureau but this case is still pending review by the Court of Tax Appeals.
Also, a criminal complaint for violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas rules was filed against a Filipino who was caught trying to bring in $700,000 on Nov. 26 last year, Guerrero added.
This case is now pending before the Office of the City Prosecutor in Pasay City.
Guerrero said another Filipino was found to have underdeclared the correct amount of money he brought with him upon arrival here on September 21 last year, which prompted Customs officers to confiscate the $501,600 he had with him.
The forfeiture hearing on this case is ongoing at the Law Division of the BOC’s NAIA district.