The National Bureau of Investigation is preparing plunder charges against fugitive Janet Lim-Napoles and several other people for allegedly converting P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds the past 10 years into kickbacks under a scheme using ghost projects and dummy nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was mum on Thursday about the cases that she said were being finalized for filing by the NBI in the Office of the Ombudsman. But a source privy to the NBI probe said a “most likely” case was plunder, a nonbailable offense punishable with life imprisonment.
Napoles, 49, president of the JLN group of companies, went into hiding on Aug. 14 after the Makati City Regional Trial Court issued warrants for her arrest and that of her brother Reginald Lim for serious illegal detention of Benhur K. Luy, a cousin and former employee.
An accomplice in the racket involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of senators and congressmen, Luy blew the whistle on Napoles after he said he was held captive for three months. He was rescued by the NBI last March.
Napoles said Luy pocketed P300,000 he was tasked to deposit and made an unauthorized loan of P5 million. Luy said he was held hostage after Napoles learned he was going to compete with her.
The NBI began an inquiry into the pork barrel scam in May, but so far no charges have yet been leveled against Napoles, apart from the detention case.
Speaking to reporters, De Lima said President Aquino had directed her to file a case if she had strong evidence to back it up. “We can’t say who we will be charging other than Napoles until we file the case,” she said.
De Lima said the investigators had identified lawmakers involved in the Napoles scam but were double-checking the evidence. “We want to make sure that the documentary support is there,” she said, adding that bad weather the past three days had prevented early completion of the gathering of evidence.
82 questionable NGOs
She referred to a larger PDAF scam uncovered by the Commission on Audit (COA), in which P6.156 billion allocated to lawmakers from 2007 to 2009 allegedly went to 82 questionable NGOs.
She said the Commission on Audit findings would be investigated by the newly created Interagency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council to be led by the Ombudsman. Members include representatives of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the COA.
Ten of the 82 NGOs that the COA mentioned were linked to Napoles and allegedly cornered P2.167 billion of the total amount audited.
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) also has been looking into Napoles’s tax payments.
Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares told reporters Thursday that the BIR investigation would also look into the accounts of Napoles’s children and relatives as well as foundations. It would also cover any lawmaker linked to the scam.
Henares said that the NBI had provided BIR investigators a “good lead” on the fugitive businesswoman’s properties that would allow a close look at her income tax returns.
She said if media reports were correct that Napoles owned so much property “common sense would dictate that she, or her company, would be among the top 500 taxpayers of the BIR.”
Henares said the BIR would also look into the tax affairs of the NGOs in the COA special audit, “whether they reported the right income, if they paid the right taxes.”
“The question is whether it will lead to Napoles. I’m not certain. I’m certain it will lead to somebody and that somebody will be investigated,” she said.
Henares said no lawmaker was being investigated in connection with the Napoles case, yet.
Big names in politics
In a television interview on Thursday, COA chair Grace Pulido-Tan said the commission had submitted to the DOJ documents on its special audit on PDAF allotments from 2007 to 2009.
“From what I see, I think the case will prosper based on what the DOJ and the Ombudsman are doing. I can feel their earnestness and dedication and I know that they don’t have any sacred cows,” she said.
Tan admitted that the audit findings were “delicate” and “difficult” as they involved big names in politics.
But she stressed that she was standing by her auditors and their findings that was why the COA proceeded to make public its findings and even posted these on its website.
Asked about the possible connivance between resident COA auditors and local government officials, Tan said she had adopted measures to make sure the erring auditors are punished. She said the commission had enlisted regional directors to ensure the data submitted from the field were accurate.
Tan reminded legislators that it was against the law to put their PDAF into NGOs, corporations, and private projects where they have a pecuniary interest. She said this included foundations owned by or are related to the legislators, citing a Supreme Court decision.
She cited the graft cases against former Bukidnon Rep. Neric Acosta and Lanao del Norte Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo in the Sandiganbayan as proof that the practice of giving pork barrel to their own foundations was nothing new.
Tan also said the COA would proceed with the release of audit reports on government attached agencies and government-owned corporations.
Very soon, she said, the COA would release its audit report on the P500-million Jatropha biofuel project of state-owned Philippine Forest Corp. in 2011.