SC reinstates estafa charge vs owner of theme park

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SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—The Supreme Court (SC) has reinstated criminal charges for estafa filed against a top official of Ocean Adventure Marine Park here by one of its business partners involving up to $2 million in investments.

The high court’s Second Division, in a June 26 decision, set aside the decisions by the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC), which dismissed the complaint against Timothy Desmond, chair and chief executive officer of Subic Bay Marine Exploratorium Inc. (SBMEI), for lack of probable cause.

The SBMEI operates the marine theme park.

Desmond was accused of misleading his investor, Virginia de los Santos-Dio, into infusing $1.15 million into the marine park.

Dio is the majority stockholder of HS Equities Ltd. and authorized representative of Westdale Assets Ltd., which also invested $1 million in the Miracle Beach Hotel Project that included “the development of a resort owned by Desmond adjoining Ocean Adventure,” the court said.

Reached by the Inquirer on Friday, Desmond said the lawsuit arose from a “failed takeover” of Ocean Adventure.

He said Dio’s investments are “all there and all accounted for.”

Lawyer Teodoro Cruz, Desmond’s counsel, said they are appealing the high court’s decision.

Dio said Desmond misled her into believing the park was financially healthy when it had been losing money. She also claimed that Desmond diverted $72,362 from a special account Wesdale set up for the Miracle Beach expenditure for the operating expenses of Ocean Adventure, the court said.

But the Olongapo RTC ruled in 2004 that the city prosecutor had no evidence that estafa took place. Its decision was affirmed by the CA in 2006.

The high court, however, said that “when a perceived gap in the evidence leads to a ‘neither this nor that’ conclusion, a purposeful resolution of the ambiguity is preferable over a doubtful dismissal of the case.”

“Given that the lack of probable cause had not been clearly established in this case, the CA erred and the RTC gravely abused its discretion by ruling to dismiss” the case against Desmond, the high court said.

“These cases must stand the muster of a full-blown trial where the parties could be given, as they should be given, the opportunity to ventilate their respective claims and defenses on the basis of which the court can properly resolve the factual disputes,” the high court said. Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon, and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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