Sen. Loren Legarda on Monday faced a second graft charge in the Office of the Ombudsman—this time for allegedly using a shell company to hide her ownership of a multimillion-peso Balinese-inspired mansion in Forbes Park, the swank village of the rich and famous in Makati City.
In the complaint for violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, public interest advocate Louis “Barok” Biraogo accused Legarda of not declaring the mansion in her statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) from 2007 to 2011—an offense that led to the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona a year ago.
On paper, the Forbes property is owned by Loren Legarda and Associates Inc. (LLAI), a public relations firm that has “no employees, no operations, no business activities and no transactions” since its establishment by the senator in 1986, according to Biraogo.
He said Legarda identified the Forbes mansion at No. 40 Cambridge Circle as her residence in the invitations she sent in hosting a dinner for East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta in 2009.
In a complaint in the Ombudsman filed on May 6, Biraogo, 53, of Biñan City in Laguna province, accused Legarda of failing to declare in her SALN from 2007 to 2011 a P36-million condominium unit that she purportedly bought in Manhattan, New York City.
Loren denies charges
Asked for comment, Legarda sent a text message insisting that the Forbes property was listed in her SALN.
“It is owned by Loren Legarda and Associates. It is clearly in my SALN,” said Legarda, who also claimed that the US property on Park Avenue was in her official asset declarations.
A check with Legarda’s 2012 SALN submitted on April 30 indicated that the column “real property” only listed a residential apartment located in the “USA” with an acquisition cost of P28.7 million. This ostensibly referred to Biraogo’s first complaint.
Legarda’s SALN has an annex where her “personal and other property” with a total value of P67,481,803 were listed. She indicated in the document that she had shares of stock in LLAI worth P249,600.
“Personal and other property” also included cash on hand and in banks, a motor vehicle, jewelry, antiques and artworks, investments in shares of stock, receivables from advances, private insurance and “real property-USA” earlier disclosed.
Legarda said she also had shares of stock in the Manila Polo Club (P2 million), Tower Club (P350,000) and Bai-A-Labi Corp. (P622,365).
The senator, not LLAI, is the true owner of the Forbes mansion, Biraogo insisted in his complaint on Monday, citing her admission to journalist Joanne Rae Ramirez in an interview published on April 28, 2007, in Philippine Star that she owned the mansion.
In that interview, Ramirez asked Legarda whether the mansion was built from her “commission” for a project in Batangas in which her pork barrel fund was used, or whether it was a “gift” from a special someone.
Legarda replied that it was not a gift and that she had “kept my nose clean in my 25 years in television as a journalist and in my six years as senator.”
She also stressed in that interview that she had to borrow money from the bank to partly finance it.
Legarda owns 2,496 of the 2,500 outstanding shares of LLAI, with her father, Antonio Sr., and brothers Edgardo and Antonio Jr., and a certain Ma. Pancrasia Valdez owning just a share apiece, Biraogo said.
He stressed that Legarda owned 99.84 percent of the stock of LLAI, which meant she was not just the majority stockholder and controlling interest holder of LLAI but was practically the owner of LLAI.
“Obviously, LLAI is being used by Legarda as a shell company to conceal her ownership of the Forbes Park property,” he said.
In the two complaints he had filed in the Office of the Ombudsman, Biraogo said Legarda violated Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.
‘Mountain of evidence’
He said Section 8 of RA 3019 required a public officer to disclose not just his or her assets and liabilities and the full disclosure of net worth, financial and business interests, financial connections, and the identities of any relatives in the government service.
Biraogo said that Section 1, Article XI, of the 1987 Constitution and Section 2 of RA 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials, required public officials to lead modest lives.
With Legarda’s self-proclaimed middle-class roots and her P75,000 monthly salary as a senator, Biraogo told reporters she could not have possibly afforded both the New York condominium and the Forbes mansion without “dipping her fingers into public funds.”
“The question is where did Sen. Loren Legarda get the money to buy a Forbes Park mansion, as well as a condo in an exclusive area in Manhattan where the Rockefellers and Trumps also have properties?” Biraogo asked. “From her annual pork barrel fund of P200 million multiplied by her years as an incumbent senator?”
Biraogo said Legarda could no longer claim black propaganda on his part to derail her desire to top the senatorial elections on May 13.
“The elections are now over and the day of reckoning for Lady Corona has come,” Biraogo said. “I will prove to the Ombudsman that there’s a mountain of evidence ready to cascade into an avalanche against Legarda.”
Biraogo said he was confident the Ombudsman would find probable cause to warrant Legarda’s indictment in the Sandiganbayan.
He pointed out that Legarda’s refusal and failure to declare the Forbes mansion in her 2007-2011 SALNs constituted five violations of Section 8 of RA 6713. Each count of graft prescribes a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a total of 25 years.
According to Biraogo, Citizen BAROK advocates, including cause-oriented lawyers, were considering filing charges against Legarda’s father and two brothers for possible connivance with the senator in hiding her immense wealth from government and public scrutiny.
He said the group’s members in the United States could also file a complaint against Legarda for perjury and violations of the US Property Codes for declaring there she was the sole owner of the New York condominium while declaring in the Philippines she was just a co-owner of the property with her father and brothers.
Charges of tax evasion against Legarda and her relatives are likewise being contemplated, Biraogo said.
In the case of Edgardo Legarda, charges may be filed with Singaporean banking regulators and the company that employs him, the Singaporean Development Bank, for his alleged role in hiding his sister’s wealth as a dummy in LLAI, Biraogo added.—With a report from Cathy Yamsuan
Originally posted: 9:12 pm | Monday, May 27th, 2013