MANILA - Businessman and alleged Customs "middleman" Kenneth Dong has admitted knowing Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte but clarified they were "not very close."
During a Senate probe on the P6.4 shabu shipment from China, Dong said he met the younger Duterte in 2008 when he was expanding his weighing scale business in Davao.
"Acquaintance lang po pero hindi kami ganoon ka-close," he said.
In an earlier House inquiry, Dong and the presidential son were name-dropped by private broker Mark Taguba as he detailed supposed corrupt practices in the Bureau of Customs.
Dong was identified by Taguba as the "middleman" of Chinese businessman Richard Tan, whose company in China, Hong Fei, consolidated the goods to be shipped to Manila.
Duterte, meanwhile, was tagged by Taguba as an alleged backer of the "Davao Group" where personalities involved in bribery activities, like a certain "Tita Nani," operate.
Photos of Dong and Duterte have been circulating on social media, prompting critics to suggest that the younger Duterte could be involved in illegal activities.
Asked about the photos, Dong said it was just his habit to take pictures with popular personalities, stressing that he and Duterte were not too close.
The Davao City official already tagged Taguba's allegations against him as hearsay. "One does not dignify lies with a response," Duterte had said in a statement.
Taguba for his part admitted he has no personal knowledge of the "Davao Group" but he has heard of the group, its operation, and its alleged members.
"Yung 'Tita Nani,' 'Jack' at 'Small' ang nagbabanggit ng pangalan niya (Duterte)," said Taguba, referring to the aliases of Davao Group members.
During the Senate hearing, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also alleged that alias "Small" is "Small Abellera" a councilor in Davao City. "Ito ay kilala na part ng grupo ni Vice Mayor," he said.