P1.8-B tax case filed vs cigar traders

SMUGGLED CIGARETTES. Authorities seize more than PHP4 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in Barangay Calarian, Zamboanga City on Thursday (May 11, 2023). The seizure of illicit cigarettes was the third in the city this month. (Photo courtesy of ZCPO)

At least 69 cases of tax evasion amounting to P1.8 billion was filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue yesterday before the Department of Justice against illicit cigarette traders who were caught selling untaxed, fake and smuggled cigarettes during the agency’s first simultaneous raids conducted last January 2023 in different parts of the country.

According to BIR Commissioner Romeo Lumagui, who led the filing yesterday, the government is losing around P50 billion to P100 billion due to the illegal activity which was supposed to fund health services and various government projects.

“The total exposure we have filed today, including the penalties and fines, amounts to P1.8 billion based on the result of our nationwide raids that we conducted last January 25 against illegal cigarette (traders). Again, it was the first ever nationwide operation in the BI history,” Lumagui pointed out.

The BIR chief issued a stern warning the agency would continue its campaign against illegal cigarette traders by conducting more raids and filing of cases.

He added that BIR would focus on Zamboanga City and Pampanga as the two provinces are considered “hotspots” for smuggling of cigarettes.

The BIR’s nationwide raids last January covered 378 stores in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Lumagui said all the revenue regions of the BIR participate in the nationwide raid since the illicit cigarettes are considered a nationwide concern of the BIR.

“After the first BIR nationwide raid of illicit cigarette stores and warehouses last January 2023, we are now filing 69 criminal cases against the possessors and owners for tax evasion. This is a warning against all illicit traders. The BIR will not only raid your stores and warehouse, we will also file criminal cases against you. This will not be the last,” he added.

The BIR is looking into the sources of the cigarettes being sold illegally across the country, noting that a big syndicate may be the one supplying these sellers.

Lumagui said they are also determining the locations of factories where the counterfeit cigarettes are being smuggled.

“The BIR protects the Philippine economy by leveling the playing field. Everybody has to pay taxes. Traders of cigarettes, vape, petroleum, and other goods subject to taxes have to register with the BIR and pay their taxes,” Lumagui reminded taxpayers.

“Failure to do so would force us to raid your stores and file criminal cases against you. We are in constant surveillance of your businesses. Not only will you have to pay your taxes with penalties and surcharges, but you will also lose your freedom,” he added.

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