Justice Secretary Leila de Lima reinforced Thursday a government team looking into an alleged P10-billion pork barrel scam linked to businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, and said the lawyer of whistle-blower Benhur Luy had told her his client wanted to be placed under state protection.
The lawyers of Napoles—president and CEO of the trading firm JLN Corp.—earlier claimed that the affidavits executed by Luy and another JLN employee, Merlina Suñas, were not backed by evidence.
The lawyers of the businesswoman said to be behind the scam involving alleged misuse of pork barrel funds also said the National Bureau of Investigation might have been unwittingly used by Luy in his bid to destroy the reputation of Napoles, who is a relative of Luy’s.
De Lima did not take that statement kindly.
“They should be careful with those kinds of statements,” De Lima said of Napoles’ lawyers, noting she had read reports that the businesswoman’s camp wanted the NBI to inhibit itself from the investigation.
De Lima said she would not dignify such statements because this “might also be their strategy, to destroy the NBI or to stir the NBI into anger so that it will not conduct the investigation because it was impartial and biased.”
“That’s why my advice to the NBI is to ignore and not dignify those statements. They should just concentrate on their work,” De Lima said.
At present, she said the NBI was building up its case against Napoles and that her instruction to investigators was that they disclose their findings “if the evidence is solid and they are ready to file the appropriate charges with an appropriate forum or body.”
Following President Aquino’s order for an exhaustive and fair probe, De Lima also said the NBI had gathered “subsequent” documents and records as possible evidence against Napoles.
De Lima said she had not seen the documents and she could not gauge at this time the “level of their strength” as evidence.
“Because we really want it to be as thorough and impartial as possible, we have enhanced the team. I have reinforced the number of lawyer-investigators, with some coming from the antifraud division,” De Lima told reporters.
She said she had provided assistance to the NBI team looking into the alleged scam so that the investigation could be done speedily and yield results that are “solid, accurate and thorough.”
No effect on case
De Lima said that at this point, she could not say if the evidence in the hands of the NBI was strong enough because she had not yet seen the documents.
She said the NBI team had coordinated with “relevant” agencies that could help it evaluate the documents.
On the Napoles camp’s statement that Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors had dismissed the serious illegal detention case filed by Luy against Napoles, De Lima said that “whatever is the truth in that case, this will not affect the issue on the allegations of the scams because the documents and affidavits are there.”
The justice secretary also said the illegal detention case was not yet over because the NBI and Luy had filed a motion for reconsideration of the ruling of the prosecution panel that heard the case.
“Whether or not the MR (motion for reconsideration) is granted or denied, there is still a process. That case is not yet over,” she said.
Ready to meet Luy
De Lima also said Luy’s lawyer, Levi Baligod, had informed her that his client had agreed to be placed under the Witness Protection Program.
She said she would meet Luy if he would go to the DOJ to be placed under the WPP and if he and his lawyer wanted to talk to her.
She said she already spoke and interviewed Luy after the NBI rescued him from the home of Napoles’ brother Reynald Lim last March following Luy’s supposed detention there and that this was why there was an ongoing investigation of Napoles.
Arrest Napoles, DOJ urged
Also on Thursday, members of Partido Lakas ng Masa, a national political party of the marginalized sectors, picketed the DOJ offices to demand the arrest of Napoles and the filing of plunder charges against the 28 lawmakers who allegedly colluded with her in the pork barrel scam.
The group also called for the investigation of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, whose law firm represented Napoles as well as the Liberal Party, which purportedly got P100 million from her during the May elections.
The group, which backs the abolition of the pork barrel system, also asked the Commission on Audit and the Department of Budget and Management to open the records of transactions made by Napoles and those involved in the scam.