The government will challenge in the Supreme Court the Court of Appeals’ dismissal of the syndicated estafa charge against a coaccused of fugitive Globe Asiatique president Delfin Lee, Malacañang said Monday.
The syndicated estafa charge against Cristina Sagun was downgraded to simple estafa after she was dropped from the case, a development that would allow Lee, who has been in hiding to avoid arrest, to post bail.
Lee may surface after the Court of Appeals ordered on Feb. 11 to quash the information for syndicated estafa against one of his coaccused, his lawyer said on Monday.
“We spoke to [Justice] Secretary [Leila] de Lima this morning and the government intends to pursue the case. We are challenging the decision of the Court of Appeals in the Supreme Court,” Undersecretary Abigail Valte, the deputy presidential spokesperson, said in a briefing.
De Lima said the Department of Justice (DOJ) would bring the case to the high court even if her department had yet to receive on Monday a copy of the latest appellate court ruling.
“But my instructions are for the DOJ, through the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General), to elevate the matter to the Supreme Court,” De Lima said in a text message.
The syndicated estafa charge involved billions of pesos in allegedly anomalous loans that Lee’s company, Globe Asiatique, obtained from the government for a housing project in Pampanga province.
Globe Asiatique was accused of using “ghost borrowers” and fake documents to obtain more than P6.5 billion in loans from Pag-Ibig (Home Development Mutual Fund), for its Xevera housing project in Mabalacat and Bacolor towns.
Vice President Jejomar Binay said the appellate court’s resolution brought “grave injustice” to the victims of the alleged scam.
Binay ordered Pag-Ibig, which he chairs, to coordinate with the DOJ and the OSG and file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
The DOJ has 60 days to get a temporary restraining order against the appellate court ruling.
“We owe it not only to the victims of Delfin Lee but to all the members of Pag-Ibig to pursue the case,” Binay said in a statement. “Those who are responsible for this scam should be brought to justice,” he said.
Pag-Ibig cap exceeded
Documents showed that Globe Asiatique took out P7.031 billion for 9,951 housing loan accounts from the Pag-Ibig Fund from March 2008 to August 2010. The amount exceeded the P500-million annual cap given by Pag-Ibig to its accredited developers.
The houses, it turned out, were in the names of “special buyers” or people who were paid to take out the loans. The contracts and titles were supposed to be amended to bear the name of the real buyers.
This scheme was reportedly hidden because it was Globe Asiatique that collected the amortization supposedly paid by the buyers. The scam surfaced when many of the houses were left unoccupied or were found being used by other people and not the legitimate buyers.
The appellate court’s 10th Division has affirmed its October 2012 dismissing the syndicated estafa case filed by Pag-Ibig against Sagun, former head of Globe Asiatique’s documentation department, in a regional trial court in San Fernando, Pampanga.
The appellate court, in effect, denied with finality the motion filed by the OSG seeking a reconsideration of its Oct. 5, 2012, ruling.
Recall arrest warrant
“The pronouncement is without prejudice to the filing by the Department of Justice of other appropriate criminal charges, if warranted, against the other accused,” said the appellate court ruling penned by Associate Justice Angelita Gacutan.
The court also made it clear that not only must the warrant of arrest be recalled but the information for syndicated estafa must be quashed “since only one information was filed against all the accused.”
The ruling covered Lee, his son Dexter, Globe Asiatique chief accountant Cristina Salagan and Pag-Ibig lawyer Alex Alvarez.
The appellate court ruled last year that the DOJ committed grave abuse of discretion by including Sagun in the case, pointing out that her job consisted of checking documents and verifying information about borrowers, hence, it was ministerial.
With the dismissal of the charges against Sagun, the number of accused is down to four, effectively downgrading the syndicated estafa case to simple estafa, a bailable offense.
Five accused are needed for a syndicated estafa case to proceed.
Valte said Malacañang was dismayed by the appellate court’s ruling, but would respect it.
“Of course we’re disappointed because our position is to prosecute the accused. But it doesn’t mean that we will not respect the decision. In fact, we’re taking the appropriate legal remedies against the decision.
“But you also understand the sentiment of the victims of the scam because if you’re a victim, it’s hard to understand the technicality in the case. So, we are pursuing the case for the government,” Valte said.
While there’s a P2-million reward for information leading to the arrest of Lee, Valte acknowledged that fugitives like the housing developer have “resources” to evade the authorities.
Lee may surface
Willie Rivera, Lee’s lawyer, said his client “benefited” from the appellate court’s Feb. 11 resolution favoring Sagun.
“Yes, Mr. Delfin Lee may appear,” Rivera told the Inquirer on Monday.
But he said Lee would surface only if Judge Maria Amifaith Fider-Reyes of the City of San Fernando Regional Trial Court Branch 42 would comply with the Feb. 11 order of the appellate court to quash the information for syndicated estafa and recall and lift the arrest warrant.
“The rule is immediate compliance. Otherwise, [Reyes] could be charged administratively or face contempt,” Rivera said.
It was in May 2012 when Reyes found probable cause for syndicated estafa and ordered the arrest of Lee and his coaccused.
When there is no more syndicated estafa case, Lee can post bail, Rivera said.
Reyes could not be reached for comment on Monday because she was attending a five-day training program.—With a report from Christine O. Avendaño