VACC files plunder raps vs. trade chief, Hyundai execs

MANILA — The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) on Thursday filed a criminal complaint before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and 10 others, including executives from Hyundai Motor Company and Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI) over the alleged granting of favors to the motoring firm.

VACC lawyer Ferdinand Topacio personally filed a complaint for plunder under Republic Act (RA) No. 7080 (the Anti-Plunder Law); technical smuggling-economic sabotage under Section 3602 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines in relation to Section 1400 of RA 10863 (Customs and Tariff Modernization Act); and estafa under Article 315(2)(a) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) against Lopez.

Aside from Lopez, named as respondents were Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) executives: chief executive officer (CEO) Mong-Koo Chung; president and co-CEO Won-Hee Lee; HMC Asia and Pacific Regional Headquarter president Yong Suk Lee; Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI) chairman-emeritus Richard Lee; HARI chairman Edward Go; HARI vice chairman Conrad Marty; HARI president and CEO Maria Fe Perez-Agudo; and HARI board of directors members Eleazar Reyes and Ladislao Avila Jr.

HMC is a South Korean multinational automotive manufacturer that sells different variants and models of Hyundai motor vehicles while HARI is the local affiliate of HMC.

The complaint stemmed from the ocular inspection conducted by the Board of Investments (BOI) on HARI’s manufacturing plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna and discovered its non-compliance with the Motor Vehicle Development Program (MVDP) under Executive Order No. 156, which aims to establish and/or expand production facilities of global vehicle manufacturers to allow the export of completely-built-up (CBUs) motor vehicles, and the increase exports of motor vehicles parts and components.

In line with MVDP global motor vehicle manufacturers of four-wheel motor vehicles that qualify under the program was accorded, among others, preferential tariff rate of 1 percent in the importation of completely knocked-down units, its parts and components.

A BOI inspection on Feb. 7, 2017 at HARI’s manufacturing plant in Sta. Rosa, Laguna revealed that the motoring firm did not have the required facilities for a car assembly plant.

This led the BOI to cancel HARI’s registration in the MVDP and to order the motoring firm to return the tax breaks granted under the program.

The VACC accused Lopez of giving “preferential and favorable treatment” to HARI.

“Respondent Hon. Ramon M. Lopez took advantage of his position as Chairman of the BOI, and in doing so, conspired and confederated with the other Respondents, i.e., the key officers of HMC and HARI, to commit crimes of Plunder, Technical Smuggling and Estafa,” read the VACC’s 13-page complaint.

However, the VACC claimed that Lopez “unjustly favored” HARI when it allegedly delayed the resolution of HARI’s motion for reconsideration against the BOI’s order.

“From the inordinate delay in the resolution of HARI’s motion for reconsideration, to the additional time given to HARI to implement assembly processes of welding and painting, respondent Lopez gravely abused his position as BOI chairman, to favor the interest of HARI, and minimize whatever possible charges the latter may face,” the complaint stated.

“Yet, despite…the incontrovertible evidence of HARI’s guilt, the BOI, through respondent Lopez, still opted to give HARI the luxury of time in complying with the terms and conditions of the MVDP,” the complaint said.

It added that “respondents colluded with one another to avail and enjoy certain fiscal benefits, in the form of preferential tax rates and customs duties, to (the) detriment and prejudice of the Republic of the Philippines, thereby warranting that they be prosecuted for plunder”.

Since HARI should not be given special tariff rates because of the violations, the VACC said “respondents should be held liable for Technical Smuggling, for having paid only 1 percent tariff duties for CBUs, when it should have been 30 percent”.

The group also pointed out that the respondents should be held liable for estafa since HARI made false representations that they complied with the requirements under MVDP “when, in fact, HARI only undertakes final assembly and quality testing/inspection”.

Sought for comment, Lopez said the BOI were the ones who investigated and suspended their MVDP license and asked for the collection of what’s due to government.

“I believe we just did our job and BOC (Bureau of Customs) is the agency computing for the customs duties due to government. So not even determined by BOI,” he said in a text message sent to reporters.