The Court of Appeals (CA) on Friday froze the bank accounts of fugitive businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles as her lawyers asked the court to reverse her indictment for serious illegal detention and stop the enforcement of the warrant for her arrest.
The freeze order covers the bank accounts of members of Napoles’ family, those of her other relatives and of the nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that she allegedly used to divert P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations to those bank accounts over the last 10 years.
In a text message, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed the issuance of the freeze order.
She said that through the Office of the Solicitor General, an agency under the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had asked the Court of Appeals to freeze Napoles’ bank accounts.
“The freeze order is effective for six months and covers accounts and related web of accounts of Napoles, her family members, other relatives and staff, as well as those NGOs identified with JLN,” De Lima said, using Napoles’ initials, which also appears in the name of the businesswoman’s trading company, JLN Corp.
The order, contained in a 36-page resolution signed by the chair of the Court of Appeals’ Second Division, Justice Remedios Salazar-Fernando and its members, Justice Manuel Barrios and Justice Normandie Pizarro, covers at least 46 bank accounts.
Among the bank accounts are those of Napoles’ daughter Jo Christine, brother Reynaldo Lim and relatives Ronald, Jaime, Jeane, James Christopher and John Christian.
Also frozen were the bank accounts of JLN Corp. employees-turned-whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and Merlina Suñas, and those of Luy’s parents Arthur and Gertrudes, as well as those of Napoles’ business associates.
The bank accounts of 22 NGOs and those of JLN Corp. and five sister companies and subsidiaries that make up the JLN Group of Companies, as well as those of their incorporators, have also been frozen.
The National Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Ombudsman, which are separately investigating the pork barrel scam, have asked the AMLC to investigate the bank transactions and accounts of Napoles, her family and associates.
A Makati court ordered the arrest of Napoles and Lim for illegally detaining Luy, allegedly to prevent him from informing on Napoles and her corrupt activities.
The court recommended no bail for Napoles and Lim.
They disappeared before NBI agents could serve the warrant of arrest on them on Wednesday.
On Friday, Napoles’ lawyers asked the Court of Appeals to reverse her indictment and stop the enforcement of the arrest warrant against her.
In a petition for certiorari brought by the Kapunan Garcia & Castillo Law Offices, Napoles sought the issuance of a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction against the DOJ and the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
Named as respondents in the petition were De Lima, Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Theodore Villanueva, Makati RTC Branch 150 Presiding Judge Elmo Alameda, NBI Director Nonnatus Caesar Rojas, Luy, his parents Arturo and Gertudes, and sister Anabelle Luy-Reario.
Asked about the petition, De Lima said the lawyers’ action was premature.
“I don’t understand why they would proceed directly to the Court of Appeals. I think that’s premature. Any remedy that they would want to seek, they want to avail themselves of, should first and foremost be addressed to the very court that issued the warrant. They cannot just proceed directly to the Court of Appeals. I think [the petition] should be dismissed outright,” De Lima told reporters.
Asked about a reward for the arrest of Napoles, De Lima said the NBI had recommended a wait of 24 to 48 hours before considering offering a reward.
De Lima bristled when asked why the NBI was taking too long to finish the pork barrel scam investigation, with the Commission on Audit beating it by announcing the results of its own investigation yesterday.
“The COA had the case on their lap for two years,” De Lima said. “Why would you say that the NBI’s investigation is delayed? Questions like that sometimes I don’t want to answer. Aren’t there better and more substantial questions than that? With such a big case, you expect the NBI to finish that in one week? A little decency with your questions please.”
In her Court of Appeals petition, Napoles claimed the DOJ and the Makati court committed grave abuse of discretion by yielding to outside pressures and hastily indicting and ordering her arrest.
Napoles claimed the serious illegal detention charge against her was filed by the government because it could not link her to the alleged scam involving lawmakers’ allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel.
“This is not a case that involves the controversial PDAF. This is a biased and baseless charge of serious illegal detention crafted to cover the seeming lack of evidentiary support to roll the wheels of prosecution against those suspected of being involved in the controversial PDAF scam. To date, no case has been filed against [Napoles] in relation to [her] purported involvement in the PDAF scam. This is a case of a poor fellow being thrown and fed to the lions,” the petition said.
Luy, Napoles’ former employee and the principal whistle-blower in the pork barrel scam, had accused Napoles and Lim of detaining him for three months.
Luy brought the suit to the DOJ after his rescue by the NBI in March. The investigating prosecutor initially dismissed the case, but it was reinstated on review.
In her pleading to the appellate court, Napoles claimed the DOJ “suspiciously” reversed its own earlier finding that there was no probable cause to indict her following her presentation of “overwhelming evidence” to refute Luy’s claim.
She said it was “clear” that public pressure on the DOJ to prosecute her in connection with the pork barrel scam was “prompted by the media that had already prejudged” her.
“The DOJ let down its guard and willfully surrendered to extraneous pressure and influence when it made a full reversal of its very own findings, even without the presentation of new evidence that justify such overturning,” Napoles said.
She added that the claims of Luy and her relatives that he was kidnapped were “merely based on bare, inconsistent, unsubstantiated and unbelievable allegations.”
Napoles said Judge Alemada “succumbed to the same pressure and influence, and hastily issued a warrant of arrest, with no bail recommended, immediately upon his receipt of the voluminous records despite two urgent motions for judicial determination of probable cause pending before [him].”
She said the Court of Appeals must stop the Makati court from conducting further proceedings while her petition was being heard by issuing a temporary restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction.
Petition for bond
Napoles also asked to be allowed to post bond to “answer any and all damages the [Luys] may suffer” should the court issue a TRO or a writ of preliminary injunction and later decide she is not entitled to them.
The DOJ filed the case in the Makati court on Aug. 7. Napoles and Lim filed motions for judicial determination of probable cause, aimed at convincing the court to nullify the DOJ’s indictment. Alameda issued the arrest warrant on Wednesday.
Napoles said the absence of a hearing and the “nonresolution” of the motions “cast a shadow of doubt” on the issuance of the arrest warrant and “lead to the conclusion that the process was truly railroaded.”