Erap pal in plunder case free to travel now
The antigraft court Sandiganbayan has lifted the travel restriction on businessman Jaime Dichaves, signaling the end of the plunder scandal involving former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
In a recently released Dec. 14 minute resolution, the court’s Fourth Division granted the plea of Dichaves— Estrada’s alleged dummy who claimed to own the “Jose Velarde” bank account—for the lifting of the hold departure order (HDO) against him.
The court cited the Ombudsman’s move not to appeal anymore the Oct. 11 resolution dismissing the plunder case against Dichaves without reaching the trial stage.
Prosecutors also did not object to Dichaves’s motion to lift the HDO, which required him to seek court’s permission before traveling abroad while his plunder case was pending.
The minute resolution was signed by Associate Justices Alex L. Quiroz, Reynaldo P. Cruz and Bayani H. Jacinto.
The Equitable PCI Bank account, which Dichaves claimed to be his, was found to be used by Estrada to stash billions of pesos in kickbacks from the government’s purchase of Belle Corp. shares, as well as illegal gambling operations and misused tobacco tax proceeds.
Dichaves was a Belle Corp. board member.
Because he fled the country before the court could order his arrest in January 2002, his plunder case lagged behind that of Estrada, who was convicted in September 2007 but pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo six weeks later.
The businessman returned only in November 2010, but the Sandiganbayan sent the case back to the Ombudsman for reinvestigation in July 2011.
The Ombudsman affirmed its order to indict him in March 2012, which the Supreme Court upheld in December 2016.
To avert the issuance of an arrest warrant, Dichaves— through former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza—asked the Sandiganbayan in April 2017 to require the Ombudsman to specify first which of the “voluminous” evidence served as basis for a finding of probable cause against him.