SC allows AMLC report in Jinggoy Estrada plunder trial
Former Sen. Jinggoy Estrada has lost his petition in the Supreme Court to exclude from his plunder trial the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on his bank transactions, which the agency linked to his pork barrel scam case.
Estrada and his wife, Precy Ejercito, have asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Sandiganbayan’s Feb. 2, 2015, decision denying their motion to exclude from Estrada’s plunder trial the AMLC bank inquiry report.
The council reportedly found that Estrada had transferred “substantial” amounts to his wife’s bank account on dates covered by the alleged pork barrel scam.
It claimed the transfers did not have any apparent legal or economic justifications and concluded that the transactions were linked to the alleged plunder case.
Then an incumbent senator, Estrada was among several lawmakers charged with plunder in July 2014 for allegedly misusing their discretionary funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in connivance with alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
P183M in kickbacks
He was accused of taking kickbacks totaling P183 million in the scam in which lawmakers channeled their PDAF allotments into Napoles’ foundations and ghost projects.
In a resolution penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, the Supreme Court dismissed Estrada’s petition as moot as it upheld the AMLC’s authority to initiate an examination of bank accounts in connection with plunder cases even without notifying the parties concerned.
In its examination of several bank transactions, the council said Estrada had “total credits” of P629.2 million in nine bank accounts from 2004 to 2013.
Estrada questioned the AMLC report when he applied for bail and the Sandiganbayan already allowed him on Sept. 15, 2017, to be freed temporarily on P1-million cash bail.
“In effect, the court can no longer grant substantial relief to which [Estrada] may be entitled. Hence, the court should abstain from expressing its opinion in a case where no legal relief is needed or called for,” the Supreme Court said.
It reiterated its December 2016 ruling that the AMLC’s bank inquiry “did not violate substantive due process because the physical seizure of the targeted corporeal property was not contemplated by the law,” referring to the amended Anti-Money Laundering Act or Republic Act No. 10167.
Doing away with notifying the accused whenever the AMLC applied before the Court of Appeals for a bank inquiry was “not a removal of any lawful protection to the account holder because the AMLC is only exercising its investigative power at this stage,” it said.
The AMLC also allegedly found evidence that Estrada received a total of P157.6 million in “commissions or rebates” for funneling his PDAF allocations to the foundations of Napoles.
“Considering all the foregoing, there are indications of money laundering scheme using bank accounts,” it said in its 90-page report.
“There is, however, a need to conduct further investigation to determine the extent of the subject’s participation and identify the other monetary instruments that were possibly involved in the laundering scheme,” it added.
The AMLC investigation team found that several checks supposedly issued by Juan Ng actually bore Estrada’s handwriting.
It said Ng received Estrada’s “commission based on Benhur Luy’s summary of rebates as well as based on bank documents” and deposited more than P57 million to the senator’s bank accounts.
Luy is a former Napoles finance officer who has turned whistleblower.
The senator did not deny knowing Ng, who he said was a legitimate businessman involved in steel roofing business in San Juan City, where Estrada and his father had served as mayor.
Estrada spent three years in detention at the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City, before he was granted bail.
His term of office ended in 2016. He is reportedly seeking to run for senator again in the May 2019 elections.
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