Logistics operator thought he would get reward for interdicted shabu shipment

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 09 2017 12:06 PM | Updated as of Aug 09 2017 12:33 PM

Chen Ju Long shows photos he took of BoC operatives arriving at his warehouse near midnight of May 25. Inday Espina Varona, ABS-CBN News

The manager of the logistics firm linked to the P6-billion shabu shipment seized on May 25 fended off calls by the freight recipient to deliver five insulator machines that held the banned substance following a call from Chinese Customs Police.

In an exclusive interview with ABS-CBN News, Chen Ju Long said he immediately followed orders from Wang Xi Dong of the Xiamen Customs Police to contact a local counterpart who frequently acts as liaison with country members of the Interpol.

He later escorted Customs officials to the Hong Fei Logistics warehouse at No. 5510 Aster St., De Castro Subdivision, Paso De Blas, Valenzuela City.

Chen Ju Long shows photo of metal insulator machine before examination by BoC officials. Inday Espina Varona, ABS-CBN News

The businessman said he voluntarily went to the Senate and asked to be called in during the investigation into the seizure controversy, which has now led to allegations of bribery and campaign contributions from the alleged middleman.

Chen said he has been advised by the Chinese Customs police to ask Senate investigators to request validating information from the Chinese government.

“I thought I was going to be given a reward,” said a frustrated Chen. “Why am I now being blamed?”

The interview was conducted on the eve of his appearance in the Senate probe. Since Chen barely speaks English and Filipino, the interview was conducted with the help of an interpreter.

It took almost three hours to gut this hole in the metal insulator machine, according to Chen. Inday Espina Varona, ABS-CBN News

In the interview and affidavits made by a personal lawyer and the National Bureau of Investigation, Chen stressed that he personally coordinated the “raid.”

Official government press statements said the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, police and the Bureau of Customs conducted the joint operation and then alerted the NBI on information from China’s Office of National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) about a large shipment of illegal drugs.

The BOC also said it had acted on an intelligence report from Zhang Xiaohui, director of International Enforcement Cooperation Division of Anti-Smuggling Bureau, General Administration of China Customs.

HOW IT WENT DOWN

Chen said the shipment arrived on May 24. The shipment’s Bill of Lading states the contents, weighing 14, 160 kgs and a volume of 68 cubic meters, contained “cutting board, footwear, kitchen ware, mould.”

Chen said the Chinese officer called him past 5 p.m. of May 25, informing him they had arrested the shipper of five crates suspected of containing shabu.

Wang had tracked him down via the Xiamen branch of his freight forwarding company, which also has offices in Guangzhou, Jinjiang and Yiwu, all in China.

On Wang’s advice, Chen said he immediately contacted Rainier Ragos, the chief of staff at the Customs intelligence and investigation service, headed by Neil Estrella.

“Wang only gave me a number that he said was Interpol. I learned it was Ragos when I called the number,” Chen said.

His affidavit describes Ragos as a Customs official who coordinates with other countries. News reports mention Ragos in previous seized shipments of drugs and ivory from Africa.

Ragos told him to wait for a return call, which came shortly past 8 p.m.

Chen said the Customs’ own translator, with the surname Co, facilitated conversations with local officers and, later, several phone conversations between counterparts of both countries.

Chen also called the Chinese Embassy and spoke with Tsin Yen, asking for a representative to come to his warehouse. He said Tsin gave the number of the embassy’s coordinator but admitted he forgot to follow up due to the unfolding event.

Shortly after the conversation with Wang, Chen said he began receiving calls, at 30-minute intervals, from Chinese and English-speaking recipients of the shipment, asking for immediate delivery.

He said he replied with grunts and yesses to four or five calls, giving no clear answer.

The recipient on record is Fidel Anoche Dee of 3050 F Bautista Street Ugong Valenzuela City. Estrella told media on May 27 that Dee and a sister were arrested after receiving parts of the intercepted shipment totally 604 kilograms.

Caught between the Chinese customs police, their local counterparts and the unnamed voices representing the recipient, Chen said he frequently moved between his warehouse and a nearby Puregold supermarket branch, where he later met Estrella and half a dozen other Customs officers.

The Chinese had arrested the shipper on May 12. Chen said they had also coordinated with the Philippine Customs to track the shipment, which strangely sailed through the green lane reserved for vetted, frequent importers.

Chen said he did not know of the government-to-government arrangements.

“I know they called our logistics office in China and got our contact numbers. I know they coordinated with international police,” he said.

“I think they called me first because they were pressed for time. They did not want the shipment delivered,” Chen added. “That’s why they asked me to hold it.”

Chen said he later learned that Chinese officials contacted local counterparts after calling him.

Chen said he was nervous after the call from the translator.

“I did not know if it was really Customs or not. I met them at Puregold around 11 p.m.

Chen’s only companion was a driver. He said only half a dozen BoC agents with long firearms were around on May 25.

“When we met, the BoC called China Customs. They reassured me the men were really Customs officers and asked me to cooperate,” Chen said.

He said that was the first time he met Estrella, who clapped him on the shoulders and reassured he would be protected.

DEMAND TO OPEN

Contrary to earlier claims by Customs that it took them four hours to find the crates, Chen said he immediately led the men to the suspected cargo.

“I pointed to five crates. They called China Customs to confirm they had found the cargo. Estrella said they would open the crates the day after but he would leave guards. But the Chinese police insisted on opening immediately,” Chen said.

They found metal grinders. What was supposed to be kitchenware turned out to be heavy metal insulator machines.

“They are very thick. It took two to three hours to cut through one machine,” Chen said.

That yielded plastic bags full of a white substance. Chen said more than 10 people, including his warehouse staff watched the proceedings.

Chen said no tests were done on the powder that night but the BoC called China to confirm it was shabu. Estrella ordered one crate to be covered, assigned guards and left.

Chen said he slept overnight in his small warehouse office. He woke up around 8 am, discovering many personnel from different agencies and K9 dogs swarming around the warehouse.

Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon arrived past 9 am, Chen said. They did not talk, he said.

It took a whole day to open all of five crates, each so heavy it took a forklift to position them for examination, Chen said.

He said there were several conversations between Chinese and Philippine officials throughout the day. Chen said he openly took photos of the proceedings since May 25.

“They asked the BoC to protect me,” Chen claimed. “They said I cooperated with them and they needed the BoC to protect me.”

He also said the Chinese asked for a photo of him with officials, just to make prove he was fine and that the seizure was really under way. That was when the photo with Faeldon was taken, he said.

Faeldon told senators he did not know what the photo was for but posed as a courtesy. Chen said Estrella knew what the photo was for.
 

Senator Panfilo Lacson shows this photo of businessman Richard Tan with Customs chief Nicanor Faeldon during a Senate probe. Photo from the senator's official Twitter account

“If I was a suspect, would he pose with me?” he asked.

Past 10 pm of that day, Chen said he accompanied NBI agents to their office to give a statement. He did not have a lawyer.

“I did not think of getting a lawyer, as I was talking with and helping the Chinese police,” he said. “I thought I would get a reward.”

Chen said he would have several conversations in June with Chinese customs officials, who thanked him for his role in the seizure.

"If I was a suspect to them, they would have asked the government here to arrest me. But they asked the Philippine Customs to protect me. I was allowed into China in July and had no trouble until I returned," he added.

Chen said he has not received any summons yet from China to stand witness in the trial of the arrested shipper.