Chief Justice Renato Corona kept more than $12 million in “fresh deposits” in five banks where he maintained 82 dollar accounts between April 2003 and early this year, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Monday testified at the Senate impeachment trial of Corona.
Morales said fresh deposits referred to deposits that did not move. “They remained in the particular accounts,” she said.
Corona, whom the Office of the Ombudsman is investigating on his alleged unexplained wealth, has vehemently denied holding at least $10 million in bank deposits.
The Chief Justice declared a net worth of P22.9 million in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth for 2010.
With the assistance of the Commission on Audit (COA), Morales said her office came up with the total amount of Corona’s dollar deposits based on a report that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had prepared for the Office of the Ombudsman.
The AMLC report recorded a total of 705 transactions in Corona’s foreign currency accounts with Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), Allied Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank, according to Morales.
Morales said the transactional balance “is not the balance of the account” but a record of the “transactions that went into funds … including the inflow and outflow of funds.”
COA Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, who appeared briefly last night at the trial to explain COA’s analysis of the transactions, said inflows into the accounts totaled $28.7 million over the past eight years.
Mendoza placed the total outflow from the accounts at $30.7 million.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer of the impeachment court, obliged Morales’ request that she be presented as the first “hostile witness” for the defense, citing her hectic schedule.
True to her billing, she brought out what appeared to be pieces of evidence damaging to Corona.
Morales submitted to the impeachment court a copy of a 17-page report from the AMLC.
She said the report was among the reasons she wrote Corona on April 20 about her office’s “fact-finding” investigation of his alleged ill-gotten wealth. She said she was also acting on three separate complaints with essentially the same allegations.
“I first sought the information from agencies and then I referred the complaints to the Anti-Money Laundering Council because I thought that the charges included some matters that were within the jurisdiction of the AMLC,” Morales told the court.
“And then later, I constituted a panel of investigators and eventually, I wrote the AMLC seeking assistance toward the determination of the truth of the charges,” she added.
Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas spent much of his direct examination of Morales in questioning the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction over the Chief Justice in connection with an antigraft investigation.
Cuevas said the Ombudsman could not “compel” Corona to respond to the allegation, citing the constitutional provision against self-incrimination. But Morales stood her ground, saying she was “mandated” to conduct the investigation under Section 26 of the Ombudsman Act.
“I did not compel him, your honor,” she replied. “I was just following the mandate of the law. That’s his lookout if he did not want to answer.”
Enrile reminded Cuevas that he could raise the provision against self-incrimination only “when a question is addressed to the respondent.”
Defense counsels earlier manifested in open court that Corona would testify in the impeachment trial. But they first asked that the Ombudsman and the complainants on his alleged ill-gotten wealth testify in court.
Under questioning by Enrile, Morales admitted that her office was indeed probing Corona’s alleged foreign currency deposits. But she said the investigation was still a “case buildup” and was yet to determine if the complaints would merit a preliminary investigation.
Morales said she asked Corona to respond to the complaints because “we wanted him to enlighten us.”
“Because as I said early on, I had sought the help of another agency for the purpose of determining whether there was indeed unexplained wealth or things to that effect, which would be violative of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” she added.
In seeking the testimony of Morales and the complainants, the defense strategy was to bring the matter of the alleged $10-million bank deposits to the impeachment court.
Corona’s camp wanted Morales and company to accuse him of owning such deposits under oath.
Under questioning by Cuevas, Morales said none of the three complaints she had received mentioned the existence of an alleged $10-million deposit. She said she got the information from the AMLC.
Cuevas questioned how the AMLC came up with the documents and why Morales did not mention in her letter to Corona that she had been in touch with the council. Morales said she did not find it “necessary” to do so.
Enrile said the Ombudsman might not be competent to respond to questions on how the AMLC had gathered information on the alleged $10-million account.
“If there’s a violation by the AMLC, that is another issue altogether,” he said.
Of the 82 foreign currency accounts, Morales said 8 were in the BPI Acropolis branch; 18 in BPI Tandang Sora; 34 in BPI San Francisco del Monte (SFDM); 1 in BPI Management Investment Corp; 8 in PSBank Cainta; 6 in PSBank Katipunan; 4 in Allied Bank Corp. in Kamias; 2 in Deutsche Bank; and 1 in Citibank.
Morales said the team that looked at Corona’s accounts made the following observations:
Multiple accounts were created for a similar purpose and spread over various branches of the five banks.
The transactions were described as having “circuitous fund movements.” For example, funds would be drawn from one account and distributed to three others.
There were numerous instances when funds were deposited and withdrawn on the same day.
There were “significant movements on significant dates,” including periods during the 2004 and 2007 elections and in the week that Corona was impeached in the House of Representatives in December last year.
Morales said that based on AMLC’s investigation, Corona only had one dollar account in 2003 in his first year as associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Two years later, in 2005, this ballooned to 23 accounts; 35 at the start of 2007; 49 at the beginning of 2008; 63 by January 2009; 75 by 2010; and 81 by 2011.
A new account was opened this year, bring the total number of dollar accounts to 82.
Morales was about to discuss the termination of one dollar account that contained $418,193 from an undisclosed branch and transferred to a BPI-SFDM account when Cuevas raised his hand and objected.
Cuevas argued that Morales did not discuss the details of Corona’s bank transactions during her direct testimony.
Under the rules of court, a witness cannot be cross-examined about matters not taken up then.
Private prosecutor Mario Bautista, however, noted that the subpoena requested by the defense instructed the Ombudsman to bring the original and certified true copies of the complaint Harvey Keh and company filed against the Chief Justice in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The subpoena also instructed Morales to bring original and certified true copies of the documents on which Corona’s accusers based their accusations that he had foreign currency accounts with “an aggregate value of $10 million.”
“Now the defense is trying to prevent the witness from testifying on these very documents just because they know the documents are adverse to them,” Bautista said.
Cuevas countered that Morales’ PowerPoint presentation was not part of her direct examination, prompting howls from the gallery.
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano raised his hand at this point, reminding Cuevas that when Morales was asked about the source of her information that Corona had $10 million in deposits, the Ombudsman brandished a letter from AMLC.
“She held the letter up and waved it. We even teased (Sen. Jinggoy) Estrada to get a copy right away, lest we get none,” Cayetano said.
“The defense panel is the one who brought up the AMLC records. The prosecution right now is only scrutinizing the details. And the PowerPoint presentation will help do this,” he stressed.
Sen. Loren Legarda seconded, saying she wanted to listen to Morales’ presentation “with minimum interruption.”
“But we do not know the source and the Ombudsman has no competence to discuss this report. She was not a party to the preparation,” Cuevas interjected.
Applause for Miriam
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago approached the microphone and pointed out that relevancy was “a primary rule of evidence.”
“As long as the evidence is relevant, it is admissible in court. There is no prohibition of a PowerPoint presentation. There is no categorical prohibition in introducing evidence but the question is whether this is relevant. I vote for the PowerPoint presentation,” she said.
Santiago’s motion was greeted by thunderous applause from the gallery. Sen. Panfilo Lacson seconded it immediately.
Enrile also rejected pleas from Cuevas asking that Morales be barred from making a PowerPoint presentation that detailed the trail of transactions that the AMLC traced from Corona’s supposed 82 dollar accounts.