Pass­port data theft: Zo­bel, Van­u­atu firm nav­i­gate as Malacañang’s silent print part­ners

The Philippine Star - - BUSINESS - VIC­TOR C. AGUSTIN

For­eign Sec­re­tary Teodoro Loc­sin Jr. and his pre­de­ces­sor, Per­fecto Yasay Jr., are ap­par­ently not on the same page when it comes to spread­ing the blame on the pass­port data theft.

Over the week­end, Loc­sin said it was a “French” con­trac­tor who had pur­loined the pass­port data from the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs.

Yasay, on the other hand, with pres­i­den­tial le­gal coun­sel Sal­vador Panelo on his side, steered in the di­rec­tion of a lo­cal firm, United Graphic Ex­pres­sion Corp., and its Slove­nian paper sup­plier.

A sim­ple Google check would show that the French dig­i­tal se­cu­rity com­pany that Loc­sin re­ferred to, Oberthur Tech­nolo­gies, had been the pass­port paper sup­plier un­til the PNoy ad­min­is­tra­tion re­placed Bangko Sen­tral with the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Oper­a­tions Of­fice through its APO Pro­duc­tion Unit as the pass­port printer. That as much Yasay had ac­knowl­edged as early as last year dur­ing a House in­ves­ti­ga­tion, when tales of in­ten­sive lob­by­ing from both the French and Slove­nian paper sup­pli­ers, in­clud­ing a trip to the Slove­nian fac­tory for a group of con­gress­men, sur­faced.

As to Yasay’s and Panelo’s likely sus­pect, what has not been dis­closed a year af­ter the House hear­ing is the cor­po­rate own­er­ship of United Graphic, even by the left-lean­ing partylist rep­re­sen­ta­tives who had clam­ored for the con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Call it def­er­ence to busi­ness roy­alty. Ac­cord­ing to cor­po­rate fil­ings, United Graphic counts no less than E. Zo­bel Inc. and Hal­dane In­vest­ments, a com­pany based in the Repub­lic of Van­u­atu, as strate­gic share­hold­ers, with a com­bined 40 per­cent stake.

E. Zo­bel hap­pens to be the pri­vate hold­ing com­pany of the late in­dus­tri­al­ist En­rique Zo­bel, whom Loc­sin in­ci­den­tally served as ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary dur­ing the Mar­cos years when Zo­bel still headed the Ay­ala Corp. and the Bank of the Philip­pine Is­lands.

The 30-per­cent Zo­bel bloc are rep­re­sented in the nine­mem­ber United Graphic board by Zo­bel’s Amer­i­can widow, Dee Anne Hora, and Zo­bel grand­son Ja­cobo Tris­tan Zo­bel.

E. Zo­bel Inc. it­self is owned 40 per­cent by an­other Van­u­atu com­pany, Lodestar, ac­cord­ing to its 2016 gen­eral in­for­ma­tion sheet, list­ing the late in­dus­tri­al­ist’s polo-play­ing son, Inigo, as E. Zo­bel Inc. chairman.

Ac­cord­ing to cor­po­rate fil­ings, the Zo­bel-and-Van­u­atu bloc be­came United Graphic share­hold­ers af­ter Edsa II in 2001, sub­se­quently in­creas­ing its paid-up cap­i­tal to P192 mil­lion. With Zo­bel on board, the print­ing com­pany dropped its au­di­tor, Laya Manang­haya, in fa­vor of Alba Romeo, to align it with Zo­bel’s ex­ter­nal au­di­tor.

Despite the Zo­bel-Van­u­atu en­try, the com­pany founder, Henry Cureg, orig­i­nally of Mal­abon, has been main­tained as chairman and pres­i­dent, with his wife, Edna Yee-Cureg, as ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and trea­surer.

The rest of the board po­si­tions, save for the cor­po­rate sec­re­tary, are held by the Cureg and Yee fam­ily mem­bers.

Ex­cept for a brief French restau­rant ven­ture in Ay­ala Ala­bang where the cou­ple have moved to, the Curegs have no other listed busi­ness ven­tures out­side their print­ing-and­pack­ag­ing busi­ness.

With the Zo­bels on board, United Graphic trans­ferred dur­ing the PNoy pres­i­dency its cor­po­rate head­quar­ters from Das­mari­nas, Cavite to the pent­house of Enzo Build­ing, the low-rise build­ing along Buen­dia near the cor­ner of Edsa that is also owned by the Zo­bels.

United Graphic also shares the same of­fice floor as luxury pur­vey­ors Stores Spe­cial­ists and San Miguel Group’s con­trol­ling share­holder, Top Fron­tier, where Inigo Zo­bel is the largest in­di­vid­ual share­holder.

By 2015, when United Graphic had al­ready grown to over 1,000 em­ploy­ees, but squeezed by shrink­ing prof­its (net in­come down P53.4 mil­lion from 2014’s P127.7 mil­lion), a once-in-a-po­lit­i­cal-life­time deal was handed to it, al­most on a sil­ver plat­ter.

In a de­ci­sion that even “The Aquino Legacy” book author El­fren Cruz found chal­leng­ing to jus­tify, United Graphic was se­lected as the “joint-ven­ture part­ner” by the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Oper­a­tions Of­fice for its APO Print­ing Unit’s pass­port-sup­ply con­tract with the Depart­ment of For­eign Af­fairs.

(Sam­ple ad­verse COA find­ings: Despite be­ing a jointven­ture part­ner, the state-owned APO Pro­duc­tion Unit was leas­ing the com­put­ers and print­ing equip­ment from United Graphic.)

Mean­while, the prospect of the fi­nan­cial wind­fall from the P38-bil­lion con­tract has even em­bold­ened the for­mer Mal­abon printer to de­clare its in­ten­tion to list at the Philip­pine Stock Ex­change.

“By the year 2018, UGEC will be a pub­licly-listed and glob­ally-known de­sign, com­mer­cial and se­cu­rity print­ing and pack­ag­ing so­lu­tions part­ner and em­ployer of choice,” United Graphic de­clared, a state­ment that was still posted on its web­site as of the week­end.

E-mail: mon­ey­gor­[email protected]­

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