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Mighty Corp. owner presents self to NBI, denies bribe

Mighty Corp. owner Alex Wong Chu King (right) arrives with former NBI deputy director Reynaldo Esmeralda (left) and other aides at the NBI main office in Manila yesterday.      MIGUEL DE GUZMAN
 

MANILA, Philippines -  On the same day President Duterte ordered his arrest for tax evasion and economic sabotage, the owner of cigarette firm Mighty Corp. showed up at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and later at the Department of Justice (DOJ) to make an arrangement for the settlement of his firm’s tax deficiency.

Alex Wong Chu King arrived at the NBI shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday with former NBI deputy director Reynaldo Esmeralda, but did not talk to media.

“He expressed his willingness to cooperate in any investigation by the NBI that may involve him,” NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said, referring to  Wong Chu King.

The businessman had earlier denied that the P2 billion worth of cigarettes seized by the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue in a raid last Wednesday on  the firm’s warehouse in San Simon Industrial Park in  Pampanga were fake.

The businessman went directly to the office of NBI director Dante Gierran, where he waited for his lawyers.

Mighty Corp. spokesperson and executive vice president Oscar Barrientos earlier said that they were not in the business of producing fake cigarette products.

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“Mighty had reiterated its plea that the Bureau of Customs keep vigilant at its function to avert smuggling and ensure collection of duties and taxes as it does not produce fake products and had done nothing to violate any of its regulations or of the Tariff and Customs Code,” he said.

Barrientos slammed the use of BOC’s mission orders by other government agencies to justify their seizure of Mighty products wrongly labeled as fake cigarettes.

At the DOJ, Wong Chu King had a closed door meeting with Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. He was apparently not under arrest when he left Aguirre’s office with his lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun.

The lawyer said there was no discussion of the alleged bribery and arrest order of the President during the meeting.

He said they only tackled the tax evasion and smuggling accusations against  Mighty Corp. by the BOC and the BIR.

“There is nothing to that effect ... That is totally new,” Fortun replied when asked about the bribery issue.

“The company had decided to cooperate fully in accordance to what Secretary Aguirre had conveyed with regard to the wishes of the President,” the lawyer stressed.

He stressed his client “voluntarily appeared” before the DOJ and had a “very cordial” treatment.

As to the payment of the tax deficiency, he said they would follow the process in the BIR that starts with the assessment of the amount.

On the bribery allegation, Mighty said it “has never taken part nor has it ever indulged in such activity, especially with officers of the incumbent administration.” 

Fortun said the company involved in the bribery incident as recalled by presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo was not Mighty.

“Mighty was never involved or identified as the giver of the bribe but another cigarette manufacturer unrelated to the company,” he said.

“Secretary Panelo is a victim of misinformation hence he has unwittingly disparaged Mighty who has no connection to that bribe incident that occurred several years back,” he added.

Mighty also said the devices used by the BIR to verify the authenticity of the tax stamps in their products “malfunctioned,” making the BIR’s claims for tax evasion against Mighty “unreliable.”

According to Fortun, BIR’s tag and excise stamp validating devices produced varying results when they were used yesterday to test the cigarette packs seized by the government during a raid on Mighty’s warehouses last March 1.

“Worse, when the same device was used to test tax stamps on products of its competitors brought in by one of the agents, the device also turned red indicating that the competitors stamps were fake,” Mighty said.

Fortun asserted that the BIR should also issue notices of tax assessment to Mighty’s competitors.

Mighty said the devices also either malfunctioned or could not read tax stamps in an inspection conducted yesterday by joint teams from the BIR’s regional office in Pampanga and its head office.

Fortun concluded the devices were “unreliable” tools for assessing Mighty’s liability for tax fraud and deficiency in excise tax payments.

The STAR tried but failed to contact the BIR for comment on the allegations. With Edu Punay, Mary Grace Padin, Ghio Ong

 

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