(Second of a series)
Janet Lim-Napoles, who first appeared on the radar screen of whistle-blowers in 2001, has dismissed as a “product of lies,” allegations she engineered a P10-billion scam over the past decade using mainly pork barrel funds of senators and congressmen for ghost projects.
In an affidavit prepared by the MOST law firm, the 49-year-old trader said she and her company, JLN Corp., had “never transacted business or closed deals with the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities.”
“I certainly was not involved in any of the high-profile scams which occurred during the previous administration,” she said in the document prepared by MOST, which stands for the first letter of the last names of the law firm’s lead partners—Lisa Araneta Marcos, wife of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Edward Serapio and Joseph Tan. Ochoa is on leave from the firm.
Letter to Aquino
Napoles also wrote a letter to President Benigno Aquino III dated April 17 saying the charges against her and her family were “false, fabricated, and a mere product of lies” perpetrated by business competitors conspiring with “corrupt agents” of the National Bureau of Investigation “with the ulterior motive of besmirching our reputation.”
The following day, April 18, the NBI received a directive from Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to investigate the allegations contained in Napoles’ letter to the President.
In the affidavit, Napoles denied claims by Benhur K. Luy, 31, a distant cousin and her personal assistant in JLN Corp., that she had ordered his kidnapping last Dec. 19 after she reportedly learned that he wanted to engage in the same racket she was in.
On March 22, Luy was rescued by a special task force of NBI agents led by Rolando Argabioso, a regional director, from a condominium unit owned by Napoles in the South Wings Gardens of Pacific Plaza Tower at Bonifacio Global City.
Luy then proceeded to execute affidavits, joined by five other whistle-blowers, outlining the alleged scams Napoles had undertaken, purportedly using funds from the lawmakers’ priority development assistance funds (PDAF), or pork barrel, and various government entities, for ghost projects executed by several dozen bogus contractors the past 10 years.
Napoles, the president and CEO of JLN Corp., said Luy was never detained. She said her brother was always with Luy and that at the end of the day, Luy was accompanied to Bahay San Jose, a dormitory used by priests and nuns, where he stayed for the night throughout the supposed kidnapping ordeal.
She said “unscrupulous individuals, in cohorts (sic) with some ‘corrupt’ agents of the NBI,” were subjecting her and her family to “continuous threats, intimidation, and even physical harm.” She said the NBI special team, without an arrest warrant, detained her brother Reynald Lim.
Alleged extortion attempts
The NBI prepared kidnapping charges against Napoles and her brother, Reynald Lim, but these were dropped for lack of probable cause by Assistant State Prosecutor Pedro Navera on June 10.
Napoles said Luy’s lawyer, Levito Baligod, had allegedly demanded P38 million from her to drop the kidnapping charges, later raising this to P250 million to P300 million, and asking a Canadian visa for Luy and his family, pocket money of $1.5 million for the travelers and another P30 million for a pharmaceutical business of his sister to be left behind.
“Modesty aside, given our financial and social stature, it is clearly absurd for us to commit the crime charged or even attempt to engage in such an activity. There is absolutely no reason for us to do such criminal acts for what benefit can we gain therefrom? Such an accusation is truly illogical and unbelievable,” she said in her letter to Aquino.
“We are decent law abiding citizens all our lives. We are not kidnappers; we are not criminals. My family and I are legitimate businessmen. We have been engaged in the business for the past 29 years, and the main reason for our success is because of the trust and integrity attached to our good name,” she said.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Baligod shrugged off Napoles’ accusation of extortion and said it was Reynald Lim’s lawyer, Freddie Villamor, who offered him P5 million in exchange for dropping the kidnapping case filed by Luy’s family against the siblings. “The offer was made in the morning after Benhur was rescued by the NBI,” Baligod said.
“JLN Corp. has never transacted business or closed deals with the government or any of its agencies or instrumentalities, much less the government offices which Benhur mentioned, and those enumerated by Arturo, Gertrudes, Arthur and Annabelle … in their joint sworn statement,” Napoles said, referring to the other whistle-blowers who sought to corroborate Luy’s accusations.
“I certainly was not involved in any of the high-profile scams which occurred during the previous administration. In fact, I found out in news reports that the Sandiganbayan issued a resolution clearing the suspects in the (Joc-joc Bolante) fertilizer scam. My name or JLN Corp. was not even mentioned in the said resolution clearing the suspects in the fertilizer scam.
“My name or JLN Corp. was not even mentioned in said resolution, proving that I and my business outfit are not involved in said scam,” Napoles said in her affidavit.
She said that Luy concocted the supposed kidnapping after she confronted him about a claim that he had secured an unauthorized loan for the company of P5 million and that he pocketed P300,000 she had asked him to deposit in the bank.
In 2001, Napoles and her husband, retired Army Maj. Jaime Napoles, were among 18 personnel of the Navy Marine Corps and civilians, charged by the Office of Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan with graft and malversation in connection with the acquisition of substandard Kevlar helmets worth P3.8 million.
Seven years later, Napoles was called in the investigation conducted by the Senate blue ribbon committee on the P728-million fertilizer scam involving then Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante. The inquisitors extracted from her statements that she had formed dummy companies to launder the funds of the Department of Agriculture. Curiously, no charges were officially filed against her.
(Part 3 tomorrow: How scams were cooked up)