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Philippine senate jails suspected rice smuggler

Publication Date : 06-09-2012


The Philippine Senate yesterday detained the president of a grains traders federation after the committee on agriculture cited him for contempt for “lying” during the panel’s inquiry into the alleged smuggling of 450-million peso (US$10.7 million) worth of rice from India.

Cesar Ramirez was ordered detained after he denied that he was communicating via e-mail with the Indian rice importer, Protik Guha. Guha later told the committee that Ramirez had communicated with him through e-mail regarding the questioned rice importation.

The Senate agriculture committee, chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan, also ordered the arrest of Guha, the CEO of Amira C Foods, a rice exporter based in New Delhi, for also lying during the investigation.

Guha, however, was in India and did not attend the hearing yesterday.

Guha is believed to be the source of the shipment of Indian white rice that was seized by the Bureau of Customs last month after it was abandoned in the Subic Bay Freeport last April. The shipment, consisting of 420,000 bags, was reportedly rejected by Indonesian port authorities and was looking for a free port that would accept it.
Authorities said the consignees planned to sell the rice in the Philippines.

Ramirez, who heads a federation authorised by the National Food Authority to import rice, is believed to have used his cooperative as a cover to mislead authorities about the real consignee of the rice shipment.

Guha earlier told the hearing that his company did not intend to distribute the rice in the Philippines. The Bureau of Customs, however, presented the committee with evidence showing how the rice was to be transported by truck to Manila and to other provinces to the south of the capital.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile earlier said that at least five witness invited to appear at the Senate committee hearings on the rice-smuggling case had “lied” during their testimonies.

Pangilinan said that of the five people who were asked to answer show-cause orders, two, Ramirez and Guha, have been ordered arrested.

The three others are Cesar Bulaon, one of the owners of Metroeastern Trading Corp., the freeport locator to whom the rice shipment was consigned; Stefano Sano, the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority executive who had allegedly asked Metroeastern to hold the rice in its warehouse and help look for a buyer in the Philippines, and a certain Vicente Cuevas, believed to be representing the Indian exporter.

Ramirez has submitted a manifestation explaining that he was very nervous during the hearing that he wasn’t able to express what he really wanted to say truthfully concerning the exchange of e-mails with Guha.

Guha, through his counsel, asked that he be allowed to file a motion for reconsideration.

“I have no reason to doubt that Guha wants to appear. You know,  they’e still interested in the 420,000 sacks of rice,” Pangilinan told reporters after the hearing.

At a hearing last week, Senator Ralph Recto confronted Ramirez about his role in the whole affair that would have legitimised the entry of the questioned rice into the Philippine market.

“You were willing to do that for [Guha] To do it legally?” Recto said.
Ramirez answered in the affirmative, but claimed he didn’t know the rice had already been seized by the authorities when he entered the picture.

“All I know was that it must be covered by an import permit,” he said.


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