Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Friday confirmed that the National Bureau of Investigation was looking into an alleged fraud involving some P10 billion over 10 years and raised the possibility that lawmakers whose pork barrel funds were allegedly used in ghost projects would be questioned.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Friday Malacañang was supporting the NBI inquiry, which stemmed from the alleged kidnapping in December of Janet Lim-Napoles’ personal assistant in the trading company JLN Corp., Benhur K. Luy, and subsequent rescue. In affidavits submitted to the NBI, Luy claimed that Napoles was behind a P10-billion scam using priority development assistance funds (PDAF), or pork barrel, of senators and congressmen over the past 10 years for ghost projects.
“Of course, it is part of the mandate of the NBI to investigate any allegation of wrongdoing,” Valte said at a news briefing.
“Yes, we confirm that there’s such an investigation on the alleged scam, as prescinding from the allegations in the complaint for serious illegal-detention case involving one of the whistle-blowers [who is] the alleged victim,” De Lima told reporters in an interview.
“But given the gravity of the allegations, we’re keeping the investigation under wraps until the NBI completes its evidence gathering and evaluation,” she added.
De Lima said the complaint for serious illegal detention, which had gone through preliminary investigation, was dismissed on June 10 by state prosecutors for lack of probable cause. A motion for reconsideration has been duly filed by the NBI and private complainants, she said.
Asked if the scandal was the same as the one investigated by Congress a few years ago, De Lima replied, “The records of the congressional probe are also among those being reviewed or examined by NBI.”
On the possibility of summoning lawmakers in the ongoing NBI inquiry and the issuance of a lookout bulletin order (LBO) for Napoles, the alleged brains, the secretary said, “Whether or not lawmakers will be part of the probe or whether or not there’s a need to issue an LBO will depend on results of the evaluation of the evidence.”
“Let’s bear in mind that when the President assumed office in June 2010, that was one of the marching orders to members of the Cabinet to look into (and) make an inventory of projects within their departments and agencies, and pursue the necessary action,” she said.
“So suffice it to say that our Cabinet secretaries are, of course, on guard for things like this,” said Valte. She said she expected the NBI “to have a lot on its hands” since the investigation covers a 10-year period.
The Aquino administration admitted to having discovered “landmines” in the government, which was left almost bankrupt by the Arroyo presidency.
Asked whether the Cabinet, especially the secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways, had discovered such irregularities since 2010 when President Aquino took office, Valte said:
“I will have to check. In fact, regarding the DPWH … they have reviewed projects that led to a decreased cost (of projects) compared to the ones, or the costing, that they found when the secretary assumed office.”
She said she wasn’t sure if overpriced projects undertaken by the past administration were “similar allegations that are being investigated by the NBI … on these ghost projects apparently connected to the priority development assistance funds of some legislators.”
Valte, however, deemed it wise at this point not to comment on allegations against Napoles, who runs JLN with her brother, Reynald “Jojo” Lim.
“I understand that several persons have submitted affidavits to the NBI (and) as such the investigation will already start. Not being privy to the contents of the affidavits, we will withhold any comment until such time that the NBI releases its findings,” she said.
First posted 1:05 am | Saturday, July 13th, 2013