Moles & spiders

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

When I first wrote about smuggled luxury cars two Fridays ago, I learned that Bureau of Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero saw the article and instructed Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Ret. Gen. Rainer Ramiro to look into the matter. Imagine my surprise last Wednesday, when I had a cascade of messages from different customs officers all asking for an appointment and one of them even sent this detailed request:

“As part of the on-going investigation being conducted by the Bureau of Customs regarding the smuggling of 78 units of Ferrari sports cars. The intelligence group would like to cooperate with Mr. Beltran for additional information on the matter. If possible a meeting with Mr. Beltran is respectfully requested.”

In all the years I have been in media I must say that this was the first time I felt an Intel group really scramble! The first thing that caught my attention was the number 78 representing the cars being tracked down for investigation. As it turns out there were even more than I reported. By mid-day I ended up having to talk with Joel Pinawin, Alvin Enciso, Val Lopez and Deputy Commissioner Rainer Ramiro from the BOC Intelligence group. I praise the BOC for addressing the matter and trying to pry more information from me, but as it turns out, I may have gotten more from them than they did from me: like the number of units, as well as the name of one car dealership “R-33” on Katipunan Avenue, White Plains.

I told the BOC team that R-33 was never ever mentioned by any of my informants; even when the BOC guys pressed, I said that it would not be fair and safe to point fingers because after one week of exposé there is a possibility that competitors could be trying to set-up their opponents for a fall. Besides which, if the BOC knew there were 78 units on the loose, it would be safe to assume they knew how the cars entered the country, who facilitated the entry and possibly who took possession of the cars since informants tell me that the units all passed through the Port of Manila.

By Thursday afternoon several people sent me images from The Philippine STAR of a Customs intelligence team inside the premises of the R-33 store. When the BOC team raided the R-33 premises, someone called someone at the BOC to find out why a raiding team had singled out R-33. The source at the BOC replied that it was necessary after the series of articles written by “Beltran” and a video post by a Korean named Peter Seo whose Ferrari, allegedly stolen from Japan, landed in Manila and was confiscated by BOC earlier.

Since R-33 owner Raymond Ronquillo knew me when I was a Bible study leader to several Drift Racers in the past, he immediately called me. I did not know that the BOC was going to conduct an inspection/raid and the last person I expected to hear from was Raymond Ronquillo. I asked him if the BOC would find tax deficiencies in the units found at his place. He adamantly stated that all the cars in his store were bought from a local source and that they would be able to present all the documents requested by the BOC. He did not deny knowing Peter Seo and even sent me the video.

Many motoring journalists and enthusiasts are asking why R-33, since there are much bigger and more visible fish in the pond, who even post the Super Cars on social media. When the Intel team raided the R-33 premises, what happened was an alarm went off, much like the “Pacific Tsunami Alert” warning all the dealers of the 78 wanted Ferraris that the BOC Intelligence team was on the hunt. One of my friends who loves to window shop for collectible cars drove by an area in Ortigas known for displaying Italian and German performance cars and reported that the stalls were clear of Stallions and Bulls and all things German! Guilty or not, R-33 looked like collateral damage. Even if you raid someone a hundred times and you come up zero on all one hundred raids; No harm – No foul.

The “tip & raid” strategy of law enforcers only work on petty criminals but not on multi-millionaire operators or politicians who can pay off informants, moles and spiders that mislead the law enforcers while warning the dealers. The BOC gets an A for effort and hauling some cars but unless they can actually collar who masterminded the Ferrari run of 78 units from BOC, all their efforts will only be worth a day’s press release.

Nonetheless, the BOC’s collective action has apparently put the fear in the hearts of the “Rich and Lawless” who spent the entire weekend chattering about the latest Lamborghini and Mercedes luxury van that the BOC Intel group hauled to their “scrap” yard last week.

I got new info that even before the local distributor of the Porsche 911 GT3 could get their hands on their allocation of ONE unit, a large grey market dealer (not R-33) had managed to get five units of the 911-GT3s and sell five units at approximately P3 million cheaper per unit! How on earth can legitimate distributors who invest in real estate, display centers, staff, parts and technology compete with people who pay half the tax and simply rent cheap warehouse facilities or display space?

The BOC and DOF should just propose a law banning the importation of current models up to three years of all luxury cars that are already represented or sold by an authorized distributor/dealer in the Philippines. Protect legitimate tax paying investors. The market for luxury performance sports cars is so small and the buyers so rich that protecting authorized dealers or distributors won’t be an issue, except for car crazy politicians who want to do sideline as invisible investors. Propose the law and find out who they are when they kick up a storm against it!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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