Ex-governor, foreign investor get 6 years over marine park deal
The Sandiganbayan has sentenced former Misamis Occidental Gov. Loreto Leo Ocampos and an Iranian-American investor to six to 10 years in prison over anomalies arising from a controversial marine wildlife park deal.
In a 57-page decision dated Dec. 5, the court’s Sixth Division found Ocampos and Foad Akhavan — an adopted son of the province — guilty of one count of violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Because of his graft conviction, Ocampos will be perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
However, both were acquitted of malversation charges due to lack of proof that public funds were misappropriated for private use.
Ocampos was accused of entering into a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement with Akhavan for the Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP), despite the businessman not being licensed or qualified to do business in the country.
The two argued that the project was a joint venture agreement, and not a BOT agreement subject to the qualifications imposed by Republic Act No. 7718 on the private contractors.
The court disagreed because Akhavan assumed full control of the facilities, which would only be transferred to the provincial government after 50 years.
Aside from Akhavan’s failure to meet the BOT law’s requirements, Ocampos was deemed to have given him unwarranted benefits because no public bidding was held.
“The project was immediately awarded to the Mr. Akhavan [sic] without delay and without any rival proponents, when it was not qualified to participate in the first place,” read the court’s decision.
The contract did not even oblige Akhavan to periodically account for the project’s earnings, the court said.
The court noted Ocampos’ admission, in a Dec. 22, 2011, counteraffidavit before the Ombudsman, that the provincial government paid for the salaries of MOAP’s casual employees totaling P559,925.
This was despite the payment of salaries being Akhavan’s obligation under the contract. Ocampos justified the salary payments as a “sort of subsidy” to a provincial “tourism development and promotion program” that incurred financial losses.
Ocampos also admitted that the provincial government did not enforce the contract’s provision for a 30-percent share of net income.
Akhavan confirmed in a Dec. 20, 2011, certification to state auditors that the business did not earn any net income since 2007.
Citing the findings of the Commission on Audit, the court said the provincial government suffered undue injury because of Ocampos’ “gross and inexcusable negligence.”
The decision was penned by Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero and concurred in by Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez and Karl B. Miranda.