Plunder raps vs Napoles face delay
Expect what Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said was a slight delay in the filing of plunder charges against the alleged pork barrel scam queen, Janet Lim-Napoles.
De Lima on Tuesday said the reason for the delay was the tedious task of compiling documentary evidence against Napoles and several lawmakers who allegedly connived with the businesswoman in the plunder of an estimated P10 billion of public funds that ended up in Napoles’ bogus nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
“It’s not really a matter of getting copies (of documents),” said De Lima in an ambush interview with reporters.
“It’s more of the organization (of documents),” the justice secretary said. “The organization of documents should be a clear and comprehensive outline of the case, especially the theory of the case, facts of the case and the actual charge.”
“The documents should support the theory of the charges,” she added.
De Lima, who has supervision over the National Bureau of Investigation which had blown the lid off the scam, said she had thought the NBI would be able to file charges this week in the Office of the Ombudsman but the resignation of Nonnatus Rojas as NBI chief on Monday disrupted the schedule.
Rojas submitted his irrevocable resignation to President Aquino, saying he wanted to quit out of “delicadeza” (sense of propriety) after Mr. Aquino was quoted as saying that “rats” in the agency tipped off Napoles about her pending arrest.
De Lima earlier said her target, however, had not changed—sue Napoles, lawmakers and others who connived to steal hundreds of millions of pesos of public funds through the pork barrel system.
During the ambush interview, De Lima said NBI agents working on the case had given her the number of people, including lawmakers, who would compose the first batch of those who would be charged with plunder in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The number of those to be charged, however, may yet increase as new documents are being obtained by the NBI, De Lima said.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, according to De Lima, would determine if the case would go directly to a preliminary investigation, one step closer to the filing of the case in the Sandiganbayan.
The case to be filed against the next batch of respondents, according to De Lima, will be under the jurisdiction of the recently created Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAGCC), which is led by the Ombudsman.
The IAGCC has been formed to look into the Commission on Audit (COA) report of pork barrel releases from 2007 to 2009 during which it was found that lawmakers wallowed in public funds that went to at least 82 bogus NGOs. At least 10 of the bogus NGOs belonged to Napoles’ network and received P2.1 billion in pork, according to the COA audit report.
None of the witnesses, who surfaced to shed light on the scam, have withdrawn their affidavits, contrary to what Napoles’ lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, has been saying, according to De Lima.
De Lima said she had not kept count of the exact number of whistle-blowers who were now in the custody of the NBI since new ones were still turning up in with their affidavits.
Asked how her department would deal with information coming from one witness that Napoles had emptied her bank accounts before these were ordered frozen by the Court of Appeals, De Lima said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) would determine if the piece of information was true.
“We will know from that inquiry, if indeed money there was withdrawn, if there is money left and how much more, etc.,” De Lima said.
Acting on the petition filed by the AMLC through the Office of the Solicitor General, the appellate court last week issued a freeze order on 415 accounts and related web of accounts belonging to Napoles, her relatives, employees and the NGOs under JLN (Janet Lim-Napoles) Corp.
Out of 415 accounts, 107 are in the name of Napoles, who also used the names Jannet Napoles Lim and Jenny Lim. The accounts are in 17 banks and banking institutions and six insurance companies.
Kapunan, Napoles’ lawyer, said she would file a petition at the appellate court this week to lift the freeze order on the accounts, saying the freeze order was illegal.
According to Kapunan, a freeze order “can only be issued in connection with a plunder case” but since no case had been filed yet, the freeze order had no basis.
Kapunan said she would invoke “equal protection” in trying to convince the appellate court to lift the freeze order, saying the case her client currently faced was not plunder, but serious illegal detention in connection with the abduction and captivity of Benhur Luy, a cousin of Napoles and the main witness against the alleged scam queen.
The serious illegal detention case, according to Kapunan, is not even basis for freezing Napoles’ accounts because no money was involved in it. Had it been a case of kidnapping for ransom, according to Kapunan, then the freeze order would have had basis.
“Where is the money involved in the serious illegal detention (case)?” Kapunan asked.
The freeze order, she added, “can only be based on testimonial hearsay, self-serving evidence of these self-styled whistle-blowers or on the COA report.”
If the freeze order had been based only on the witnesses’ testimony, Kapunan said then her client had been denied due process.
“If the basis is the COA report then why were the 82 so-called bogus NGOs that were allegedly involved in the PDAF not all frozen?” Kapunan said.
“And if it was the COA report that was the basis for the freeze order, they should have also frozen the accounts of the senators and congressmen mentioned in the COA report,” she said.
Kapunan said her client was a victim of “persecution.” She accused Levito Baligod, lawyer of one group of witnesses, of threatening Napoles’ employees with arrest to force them into testifying against Napoles.