Baja case reopened despite guilty verdict
The Sandiganbayan has decided to reopen the corruption case against the country’s former permanent representative to the United Nations, Lauro Baja Jr., nine months after he was found guilty of misusing the Philippine Mission’s insurance payouts.
In a three-page resolution dated Jan. 10, the antigraft court’s Fourth Division granted Baja’s plea for another chance to present evidence “to appease any suspicion of an alleged miscarriage of justice.”
The resolution was penned by Associate Justice Reynaldo P. Cruz and concurred with by Associate Justices Alex L. Quiroz and Bayani H. Jacinto.
Baja was accused of misappropriating for his personal benefit the Philippine Mission’s $17,547.27 in insurance payouts in 2006 by depositing the funds in a separate bank account that only he could access.
On April 13 last year, the Sandiganbayan found Baja guilty of one count each of graft and malversation. While the court denied his appeal on Oct. 12, it reduced his sentence to a minimum of eight years and four months and a maximum of 17 years and four months.
But Baja asked the court to reopen the case so he could present the testimonies of the Commission on Audit (COA) and Lexington Insurance Corp. that, he said, would prove that he did not violate any COA circular in handling and disposing of the insurance proceeds.
He said the funds were used for repairs in the ambassador’s water-damaged official residence in New York.
The Ombudsman opposed the reopening of the trial and argued that the COA could not have audited the insurance proceeds because they were hidden in a bank account created by Baja.
Aside from the irregular deposit, the court’s earlier verdict questioned Baja’s disregard of the proper procedures in the use of the insurance payments for repairs because he had engaged a contractor different from that specified by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Baja submitted receipts that totaled only $15,090 instead of the more than $17,000 withdrawn from the account, according to the court.
It also found improper the release of $2,500 as insurance proceeds for the alleged theft of the money and jewelry of Baja’s wife, saying that the amount was payable to the government and not to her.
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