Sensing the law was closing in on her, Janet Lim-Napoles withdrew an undisclosed amount of money before the Court of Appeals could order her bank accounts frozen amid a government investigation of allegations that she pocketed P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel allocations, the Inquirer has learned.
Napoles reportedly closed the bank accounts, but also opened new ones.
The latest revelations were made by a president of one of several dozen nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that Napoles had formed over the last 10 years allegedly to defraud the government of billions of pesos in lawmakers’ allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The identity of the NGO president was withheld for now, but the 55-year-old woman, a longtime aide of Napoles, was allowed to speak to the Inquirer last week in the presence of Lourdes Benipayo, one of the lawyers of 11 whistle-blowers, all either relatives or former employees in the businesswoman’s JLN Group of Companies, after she signed an affidavit detailing what she knew about the alleged scam.
The 11th accuser also submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation an affidavit detailing 40 residential properties that Napoles allegedly owned, including five units in Primea, one of the swankiest condominiums on Ayala Avenue in Makati City. A unit in Primea is worth at least P75 million, the Inquirer was told.
Earlier sworn statements executed by the whistle-blowers said Napoles owned 28 real estate properties and apartments in such posh villages as Ayala Alabang, Forbes Park and Dasmariñas, but the Bureau of Internal Revenue said last week it had so far failed to locate residences under the name of Napoles, her family or her NGOs.
The newest whistle-blower said Napoles closed her bank accounts and those of her NGOs in June, two months after her main accuser, Benhur K. Luy, began talking to NBI investigators about the extent of his employer’s alleged transactions involving five senators, 23 congressmen and government officials.
“She closed the accounts, but she also opened new ones. She was afraid that Benhur knew about her bank accounts,” said the 11th whistle-blower. She could not give an estimate of the transferred accounts, but she said she had evidence showing that P320,154.48 was remitted to Napoles from 11 NGO accounts in Metrobank’s Magdalena and Abad Santos branches.
The Court of Appeals has ordered the freezing of all of the bank accounts of Napoles and her NGOs. The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had announced it would look into at least 400 bank accounts linked to Napoles. The process is likely to take at least six months.
She said the other NGO accounts were closed earlier. She said she decided to come out because she feared she and the other whistle-blowers would be made “scapegoats” of Napoles. “We feel this is the only way we can atone for our sins to the people,” she said.
Napoles surrendered to President Aquino on Wednesday night, hours after he announced a P10-million bounty for her arrest. She said she feared for her life. She disappeared on Aug. 14 after a branch of the Regional Trial Court of Makati City issued a warrant for her arrest and that of her brother, Reynald Lim, for the alleged serious illegal detention of Luy. The 49-year-old trader is now detained at Fort Sto. Domingo in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna province.
Luy said he had been held captive by Napoles and her brother for three months after she suspected him of competing with her racket. Napoles said Luy pocketed P300,000 she had told him to deposit in her account and that he had taken an unauthorized loan of P5 million. After his rescue in March by NBI agents, Luy gave to investigators testimony on Napoles’ alleged racket. Ten other former employees of Napoles have corroborated Luy’s statements.
Three of the whistle-blowers claimed they were with Napoles at the time she received a phone call that an arrest warrant had been issued against her and her brother.
“She never expected the dismissal of the illegal detention case would be reversed. She was even happy and confident on that day,” said the NGO president. She said the employees were not told about the arrest warrant but learned about it because Napoles’ eldest daughter, Jo-Christine, was crying. “There were nonstop phone calls coming in,” she said.
The three whistle-blowers said they were at the South Gardens Unit in Pacific Plaza in Makati City having a meeting with Napoles when the news came about her arrest. They left Napoles and her daughter at 7 p.m., before their employer vanished. They said they also talked to Napoles hours before she surrendered to the President.
They said that hours before Napoles surrendered, they were given P20,000 each by Cheryl Jimenea, a former appointments secretary of former President Joseph Estrada, now mayor of Manila. Jimenea was with a lawyer during a meeting in which Napoles allegedly instructed them to implicate Luy in the scam and say all the money was remitted to him if they were questioned by the NBI.
The 11th whistle-blower said she started working for Napoles in 1997 as a “utility girl” for Jo-Chris Trading, which had its office in Pasay City. In 1998, the trading company moved to the Philippine Navy Officers’ Wives Association building in Taguig City. During that time, Napoles also owned a parlor, barber shop and a meat shop in the same building.