BOC to conduct own probe on arms smuggling

By Evelyn Macairan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Apr 01 2014 04:34 AM | Updated as of Apr 01 2014 12:34 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Monday disclosed that the agency is conducting an investigation on the alleged involvement of California state Senator Leland Yee in arms-trafficking operations where guns were reportedly smuggled out from the Cagayan de Oro City port.

BOC public information officer Charo Logarta-Lagamon said that Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) director Alejandro Estomo would lead the investigation.

The CIIS is a unit under the BOC Intelligence Group (IG) headed by Deputy Commissioner Jesse Dellosa, a retired Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief who has also been conducting a serious anti-smuggling campaign.

Lagamon said that as of yesterday morning, the BOC has “not received any formal or official correspondence from any other agency, but the CIIS is now conducting its own probe.”

CIIS agents were sent to the Cagayan de Oro port.

She admitted that the US embassy has not asked for the BOC’s help. But she assured the public that the bureau has good relations with the embassy and that it would be willing to lend assistance.

“The bureau is ready to cooperate and assist in this investigation pertaining to Yee,” she added.

Estomo said the team is looking into the reported illegal smuggling of firearms from the Philippines to the US.

“We are checking on it. We are building up information,” he said.

He added that they are checking on all pertinent data to verify when the illegal shipments were sent abroad and identify the people involved.

Estomo also clarified that even if the CIIS would be doing an investigation on Yee’s case, this would not prohibit the Enforcement Group (EG) of BOC Deputy Commissioner Ariel Nepomuceno from conducting a parallel probe.

He added that the EG and the IG have close coordination.

US law enforcers arrested Yee last March 27 after a series of raids in the Bay Area and Sacramento targeting an alleged corruption conspiracy involving arms trafficking and campaign fraud to fund his candidacy for secretary of state of California.

He was released on $500,000 bail on the same day.

There were unconfirmed reports that some members of the AFP were routinely selling weapons to rebels and other armed groups.

Based on reports, Yee, who had authored gun control legislation, asked for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent to an arms trafficker with links to Muslim guerillas in the Philippines.

Investigators said Yee discussed helping the agent get weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder-fired missiles.

In an affidavit, FBI agent Emmanuel Pascua talked of how Yee explained the entire process of acquiring weapons from a captain in the Philippine military and the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and then smuggle the firearms to the US.