A major importer of seafood, meat, and deli is in danger of losing its license after getting charged for smuggling by the Department of Agriculture.
The DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has charged Hightower Inc. of misdeclaring and diverting P1.9 million worth of round scad or “galunggong” from China.
Dr. Nilo Katada, chief of DA-BFAR’s protection and law enforcement group, said a composite team of DA and Bureau of Customs agents busted last December, Hightower’s delivery of supposedly “frozen squid” for institutional buyers at a trading center in Quiapo.
The hot cargo,however, was diverted to Amber Business Park in Paranaque in a warehouse owned by a certain Lanie Duran of Glacier Megafridges Inc.
When the raiding team opened the cargo, Hightowre’s shipment consisted of 1,393 boxes of round scad (male), 325 boxes of round scad (female), and 215 boxes of squid.
Glacier’s warehouse staff initially claimed the cargoes were owned by Duran, but further investigation showed Hightower was the real consignee.
If found guilty by the DA-BFAR adjudication committee, Hightower will be penalized with a fine amounting to five times the value of the species, or P300,000 to P500,000, whichever is higher, and forfeiture of fishery/aquatic product for proper disposition.
BFAR has suspended processing of Hightower’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance (SPSIC) while the case is pending.
Katada said Hightower’s accreditation could be revoked permanently and its officers could be blacklisted perpetually from engaging in all fishery-related business. Katada also recommended the immediate revocation of Hightower’s accreditation and license to import.
Upon conviction by a court of law, the offender shall be punished with eight years of imprisonment and a fine of twice the administrative fine, forfeiture and/or destruction of the species.
Hightower, which was formed in 2002 originally as Circle of Trade,is one of the biggest suppliers of fresh and processed Asian food imports to hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets. Its subsidiaries are Hightower Storage, Hightower Construction and Real Estate, and Artisan Cellars and Fine Foods. Its brands include Seafood Catch, Great Earth, Fishing Village, Pike Market, Finest, Farmer’s Best, Asian Deli, and Chop Shop.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar commended BOC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero and DA-BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona “for their continued vigilance and dedication to run after erring importers and traders.”
“Illegal importers, smugglers, and unscrupulous traders deprive us not only of much-needed tax revenues but also of reasonably-priced farm and fishery products for the benefit of consumers,” said Dar.