Businessman Jaime Dichaves, who had claimed ownership of the fraudulent “Jose Velarde” bank account of deposed President Joseph Estrada, will not be arrested while he is being investigated for plunder by the Office of the Ombudsman, the Sandiganbayan antigraft court has ruled.
Voting 4 to 1, the Sandiganbayan Special Division recalled the arrest warrant it issued against Dichaves in 2002 after he was included in the plunder case against Estrada.
The ruling, dated September 16, also affirmed its earlier July ruling directing the Office of the Ombudsman to complete its preliminary investigation of Dichaves, upon a motion from the latter. It denied the prosecution’s motion to arraign Dichaves once he appears before the court.
The court said it was recalling the arrest warrant because it had been issued despite Dichaves being denied a complete preliminary investigation.
It said the warrant was issued based only on the complainants’ affidavit and the prosecutor’s recommendation to include him in the case, without any countervailing evidence from Dichaves.
Dichaves, who fled the country before Estrada’s ouster in 2001, was a coaccused in the Estrada plunder case. State prosecutors claimed that Dichaves, alleged to be a crony of Estrada, had connived with the disgraced leader to amass ill-gotten wealth.
At Estrada’s trial, it was established that some of the ill-gotten assets were deposited in the name of Jose Velarde in an account at the Equitable-PCI Bank. Despite Dichaves’ earlier claim that he owned the Jose Velarde account, the court concluded that Estrada was Jose Velarde and convicted him of plunder on Sept. 12, 2007. He was almost immediately pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In the September 16 decision, the Sandiganbayan noted that Dichaves had left the country at the height of Estrada’s impeachment trial before any complaint was filed against him.
“In the absence of any criminal complaint against Dichaves, there can be no indication of guilt of any criminal act. Moreover, until such time as an accused is convicted by final judgment, the presumption of innocence exists in his favor,” the antigraft court said.