MANILA, Philippines—Businessman Jaime Dichaves was arraigned on Friday but pleaded not guilty to plunder charges before the Sandiganbayan during a hearing on his motion to travel to Hong Kong and China later this month.
With the arraignment, the Sandiganbayan Special Division has acquired jurisdiction over Dichaves and could proceed with his trial even in his absence should he not return to the country, a court staff said. His lawyer, however, said he had no intention of doing so.
Dichaves is a coaccused of former President Joseph Estrada in the plunder case, but has denied conniving with the former leader to amass ill-gotten wealth.
The arraignment was necessary for Dichaves’ travel abroad. He had filed a motion and a supplemental motion for leave to travel to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China, from March 18 to 26. But this was opposed by state prosecutors.
The Special Division, chaired by Associate Justice Francisco Villaruz Jr., informed Dichaves of the conditions of his arraignment, including the waiving of his right to invoke double jeopardy, to which the latter consented.
“He will not be able to invoke the defense of double jeopardy in case something happens,” his counsel Pacifico Agabin later said in an interview, referring to the principle that an accused can’t be charged twice for the same offense.
The other conditions were: should the prosecution resolve to proceed with the case after reinvestigation, the conditional arraignment will stand as a regular arraignment, and should the prosecution resolve to withdraw the information under which he was conditionally arraigned, such conditional arraignment shall be automatically nullified.
The court ordered the prosecution to submit its opposition to Dichaves’ motion and the defense to file its comment before the March 18 hearing.
A hold departure order has been issued against Dichaves. He has not been arraigned on the plunder case after the Special Division ordered the Office of the Ombudsman to first complete its preliminary investigation of the case.
The court has also quashed his arrest warrant but has not lifted the HDO against him.