Philippine authorities have seized 54 high-powered rifles worth P25 million from a foreign vessel off the coast of Mariveles, Bataan, thwarting a smuggling operation possibly related to the 2010 elections, a senior Customs intelligence official said Friday.Actually the last sentence is not quite true. It also had a cargo of 15 empty crates.
Fernandino Tuason, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief, said his office had received information some politicians had “ordered” the shipment of the Israeli-type Galil assault rifles from an international gun-running syndicate as part of their preparations for next year’s polls.
15 empty crates
Customs commissioner Napoleon Morales said the guns were concealed in four wooden crates placed inside the cargo hold.
He said another crate contained slings, magazines and bayonets for some of the firearms.
Morales said they also found 15 empty wooden crates on the cargo ship, prompting them to suspect that the alleged smugglers had already unloaded most of the contraband, possibly at sea.
He said he also got information that a yacht was seen ferrying “something from the ship” a few hours before the vessel was raided by agents of the Bureau of Customs and Philippine Coast Guard around 4 p.m. Thursday.
“We are closely coordinating with the Coast Guard as we try to recover the yacht which was seen loading some cargoes from the ship,” he said.
“We already have names, some are candidates, others are supporters,” Tuason, speaking in Filipino, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a phone interview. “I cannot give you their names because we are still verifying. Once we have verified we will issue a press release.”
“The election season is fast coming. It’s highly probable that this [shipment] is election-related,” he said.
“We do not discount the possibility that the guns could be used in a destabilization plot against the government and for terrorist activities,” he added.
He said they were also checking the identities of the Filipino contacts of the crew members of MV Captain Ufuk, the Panamanian-registered cargo vessel which tried to bring in the firearms through the Port of Mariveles.
According to Tuason, the ship’s 13 Georgian crew members and its South African captain could be part of a big-time international syndicate behind gun running in Asia and Africa.
He said: “Transnational crimes such as this do not involve ordinary persons. The suspects could be members of a big group of gun runners.”
Although Galils are usually made in Israel, the ones seized from the Panamanian ship were all made in Indonesia, Tuason said.
The crew members were all cooperative and calm during the search of the ship, he added.
Tuason said the ship did not have any cargo aside from the crates containing the firearms.
How do you like your elections?
More on the Galil here