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