Secretary De Lima commends CTA for convicting a big-time Georgian arms smuggler

17 December 2014

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima hailed the recent decision of the Court of Tax Appeals convicting a Georgian national, who smuggled into the country illegal firearms from Indonesia, approximately amounting to more than PhP5 million.

The Court of Tax Appeals, Third Division meted the penalty of an  indeterminate term of eight (8) years and one (1) day of prision mayor, as minimum, to ten (10) years of prision mayor, as maximum, and to pay a fine of eight thousand pesos (PhP8,000), without subsidiary imprisonment in case of insolvency and to pay the costs against Lawrence John Burne for violation  f the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

The Court, likewise, ordered the forfeiture of the articles confiscated from Burne in favor of the Philippine Government.

"This is a warning to all those who want to harm the economy, those who want to deprive our country of rightful levies including customs duties and taxes worth millions. Smugglers, regardless of influence or economic stature, have no place in our society but in jails," the Secretary said.

Investigation showed that sometime in August 2009, accused Capt. Lawrence John Burne, master of the vessel MV UFUK with thirteen (13) crew members who are all Georgian nationals arrived in Mariveles, Bataan unlawfully and fraudulently importing and bringing into the Philippines 20 wooden crates/boxes painted black to conceal the nature and origin of the cargo containing 100 units of Indonesian rifles approximately valued at PhP5,211,126.00 on board the vessel M/V UFUK from Jakarta, Indonesia, with total duties and taxes of more than PhPl million and ten (l0) units of pistol valued at almost PhP400,000.00 with total duties and taxes amounting to more than PhP97,000.00.

Burne was apprehended by a team from the Bureau of Customs, Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast  Guard for alleged Violation of the Tariff and Customs Code for failure to produce necessary documents to support the cargo of the vessel, was detained at the Bureau of Immigration and posted a cash bail bond of P120,000.00 in 2011. Unexpectedly, the accused has jumped bail and is now a fugitive of the law.

“Once an accused jumps bail, escapes from prison or confinement, or flees to a foreign country, he loses his standing in court and unless he  surrenders or submits to the jurisdiction of the court, he is deemed to have waived any right to seek relief therefrom,” the Court stressed in its decision.

“Burne cannot disown responsibility for the cargo that was onboard the vessel at the time that he was in command as its master. He may have been merely a substitute or replacement captain, but at the time of the discovery of the smuggling, he was the only captain in command,” the Court further said.

The Court concluded that his guilt has been established beyond reasonable doubt and is guilty of committing unlawful importation as defined under Section 3601 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

Burne was indicted by the Department under the joint program, Run After the Smugglers (RATS) of the DOJ and the Bureau of Customs.

The Secretary commended Asst. State Prosecutor Ramon Chito R. Mendoza for the successful prosecution of the case.

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