(Last of a series)
When agents of the National Bureau of Investigation swooped down on March 22 on a condominium unit in the swank South Garden Pacific Towers in Taguig City and rescued Benhur Luy, little did they know that they were to pry open a Pandora’s box of ghost projects worth P10 billion over the past decade.
Following days of surveillance on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas, the special task force headed by Regional Director Rolando Argabioso rescued the 31-year-old Luy, who had been reported by his lawyer, Levito Baligod, as missing by his parents, Arturo and Gertrudes.
Baligod’s letter dated March 1, asked De Lima’s help in locating Luy, who the lawyer said had been detained by his employer and cousin Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim.
Luy’s parents said that Lim had warned them not to go to authorities for assistance, telling them, “Hawak namin ang gobyerno (We control the government).”
Napoles, president and CEO of the trading firm JLN, was alleged to be the brains behind the multibillion-peso racket using mainly pork barrel funds, or the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), of five senators and 23 members of the House of Representatives for nonexistent projects. She has denied any wrongdoing.
In his letter to De Lima seeking assistance, Baligod said:
“This case initially appeared to me as simple case of serious illegal detention. However, a further interview of witnesses revealed that the victim was being detained to ensure that nobody could directly implicate the above persons with the ongoing issues on the fertilizer scam, Malampaya Fund, and anomalies in the implementation of several PDAF-funded projects.”
A medical technology graduate, Luy joined Napoles, a distant cousin, in September 2002 and became her personal assistant. There was a falling out, after Napoles claimed that he took an unauthorized loan of P5 million and ran away with P300,000 he was ordered to deposit in her account.
After his rescue, Luy prepared a statement for the NBI detailing where he was detained by Napoles and her brother.
On the first day, Luy said he was kept in one of the rooms of the Discovery Suites at Ortigas Center in Pasig City, but all outside calls were barred by the hotel on orders of Napoles.
Before he was detained, he said Napoles took his pouch that contained his driver’s license, PRC identification card, credit cards, ATM cards, passport, various bank passbooks, check booklets and cash. While Napoles was talking to Luy, her security escorts surrounded him.
On the second day, Luy said he was brought to Bahay San Jose at No. 52 Lapulapu St., Magallanes Village, Makati City, where Msgr. Josefino Ramirez and five Chinese priests were staying. There, Luy said he was also barred from using cellular and landline phones.
He was also told not to speak to the two security guards and was prohibited from watching television. More importantly, he was barred from going out of the house and his movements were being jotted down on the guard’s logbook.
He said that he was able to get out of the house on Dec. 24, Jan. 9, and Feb. 23 but under escort by Lim and his aides. Every time there was a visitor in the priests’ residence, he was told to hide in the chapel. He said that in the three months that he stayed with Monsignor Ramirez, “he spoke to me only three times” but that he was unable to speak about his plight.
Described as a drug addict
Luy said that his captors, during his detention, pictured him as a drug addict who had to be reformed. Luy said that his family pleaded with Lim to let them see him at least.
“But instead Lim told us that we can see him if they surrender to him the laptop he was using and not to report anything to authorities because hawak nila ang gobyerno,” Luy said in his affidavit.
Surrendering the laptop containing business transactions of JLN Corp., the mother said, was the condition set by the siblings for them to see Benhur.
On Dec. 21, based on the affidavit of Luy’s mother, Lim got the laptop from her and told her not to report to authorities, repeating, “Hawak namin ang gobyerno.”
According to an affidavit of Luy’s friend, Flor Villanueva, who had possession of the laptop, she was able to copy all the files before it was given to Lim.
In his third meeting with his family on Feb. 23, Luy said he was able to sneak a note to his sister, Annabelle, asking for help.
Personal bank accounts
Benhur in his affidavit said that Napoles cleaned out his personal bank accounts through illegal and unauthorized withdrawals while he was under detention.
He claimed that his personal accounts with United Coconut Planters Bank and Metrobank that reached P1.5 million were withdrawn through a debit memo. He added that his dollar account with a balance of $13,000 was closed with the full amount withdrawn.
“All this I earned in the 10 years of working with JLN,” he said.
The NBI said that the operation to rescue Luy began on March 8. When it was carried out, Lim was arrested but Napoles eluded the agents. Lim was taken to St Luke’s Medical Center at Global City after he complained of chest pains. He subsequently had heart surgery.
Luy told the NBI that during his detention he was moved from one place to another—all owned by Napoles—during the day, but was returned to Bahay San Jose to spend the night.
He said he was detained in houses located in an upscale subdivision, high-end condominiums, and a retreat house run by retired priests.
In his narration to the NBI, Luy claimed there was not a moment while he was detained that he had the chance to escape. He said Lim was always with him “when I go out of the residence of the priest, and he was always nearby listening when I talked to my family.”
The NBI recommended the filing of kidnapping charges against Napoles and Lim in March. The charges were dismissed on June 10 by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera. Now Luy stands accused of qualified theft and no bail is recommended.
(First of a series) NBI probes P10-B scam
(Second of a series) ‘I am not involved in any scam’
(Third of a series) How P10-B racket works
(Fourth of a series) 28 solons linked to scam
(Fifth of a series) Malampaya fund lost P900M in JLN racket
NBI probe into pork barrel scam backed by Palace
Whistle-blower of P10-B pork barrel scam faces arrest
Scam report provokes netizens
Top fashion designer backs whistle-blower
Scam report provokes netizens
Flow of pork funds
Lacson bares P3.5M ‘commission’ offer