Trade chief denies 'baseless' plunder, smuggling raps

Warren De Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2018 02:47 PM

MANILA - Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Monday denied accusations made by an anti-crime group in its plunder and smuggling complaints, calling them "baseless and frivolous."

The allegations were made "merely to harass and malign his good name and office," Lopez in a statement released by the Board of Investments.

The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption last week filed plunder, estafa and technical smuggling complaints against Lopez, who is concurrent chairman of the BOI, and executives of Hyundai Motors in connection with the P1.1-billion in preferential tax rates and customs duties allegedly accorded the motor company.

Lopez said he and the BOI "are unwavering in their duty to implement" the Motor Vehicle Development Program.

"No preference nor favor was given to HARI (Hyundai Asia Resources Inc) or to any participant," he said in the statement.

"While he urges everyone to be vigilant against corruption, he pleads that it should not be abused so as not to be counterproductive to the concerted efforts of the government to encourage investments and facilitate and promote trade activities in the country to generate business and employment," the statement further read.

The Board of Investments is also not concerned the plunder and smuggling allegations against Lopez will affect the body's standing with the Department of Finance.

Trade Undersecretary Ceferino Rodolfo, managing head of the BOI, said the case proved the agency was doing its job. 

“Who investigated this? Who is pushing HARI to comply? It’s BOI," he told reporters.

HARI was enjoying 1 percent tariffs on imported units of Eon hatchbacks and H350 vans under the Motor Vehicle Development Program. The vehicles however were fully assembled. 

The cars were supposed to be knocked down for assembly in the Philippines to allow for employment opportunities and for participation of local parts makers.

The manufacturer's registration for the program and its privileges were suspended last year and the BOI gave it 6 months to comply by putting up a proper assembly line. 

The company filed a motion for reconsideration and they now have until June to make things right.

Aside from costing government an estimated P1 billion in lost revenues, the BOI estimates HARI could have generated 1,000-4,000 jobs if it had followed the rules of the program.

The firm currently employs 125 in its assembly plant based on its website.