Sandiganbayan junks $5.1-M forfeiture case vs Imelda’s deceased brother
The Sandiganbayan has dismissed a $5.1 million forfeiture case against Benjamin Romualdez, the deceased younger brother of Ilocos Norte 2nd District Rep. Imelda Marcos, due to a jurisdictional issue.
In a five-page resolution, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division dismissed the case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in August 2011 against Romualdez and his wife, Juliette, to forfeit $5.1 million worth of the couple’s property.
The Ombudsman, in its petition for forfeiture of unlawfully acquired properties, asked the Sandiganbayan to declare properties and assets of the couple in the amount of $5,193,726.37 as forfeited in favor of the government.
But anti-graft court said that it should be the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), not the Ombudsman, that should file the forfeiture case.
It explained that the Ombudsman’s authority is restricted to cases involving ill-gotten wealth amassed after February 25, 1986.
“The petition (filed by the Ombudsman) alleges that the ill-gotten wealth was acquired during respondent Benjamin Romualdez’s ‘incumbency as provincial governor of the province of Leyte and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Peking, Jeddah and Washington D.C.,” the ruling stated.
“Clearly then, the alleged ill-gotten wealth could have only been amassed before 25 February 1986 since, as pointed out by respondents, respondent Benjamin Romualdez was no longer a public official after 25 February 1986,” it stressed.
While there was “no doubt” that the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate forfeiture cases, the Sandiganbayan said that it should have referred its resolution to the OSG.
“As it stands, the present petition should be dismissed for lack of authority of the (Ombudsman) to file the same,” it said.
However, the anti-graft court said the case may be refiled by the current Solicitor General Jose Calida since the dismissal of the Ombudsman’s petition was “without prejudice to its re-filing” by the OSG.
Calida, a supporter of the Marcoses, was previously one of the leaders of the “Alyansang Duterte-Bongbong” or “AlDuB” in the 2016 national elections.
But Calida, in an interview with reporters in March 2017, assured that his ties with the Marcoses would not affect the pursuit of ill-gotten wealth.
“I am now a government official. The elections [in 2016] has no more bearing on my duty as a government official so it doesn’t matter to me,” he earlier said. /je
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