Sandiganbayan upholds plunder conviction of Napoles
MANILA, Philippines — The Sandiganbayan has upheld the plunder conviction of suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles, citing lack of merit in her motion for reconsideration.
In a 16-page ruling dated March 13 but released to the media only on Monday, the antigraft court’s First Division denied her plea and affirmed its decision last year.
The ruling found the businesswoman guilty of pocketing P124.5 million from former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.’s allocations from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), a pork barrel that funded pet projects of lawmakers.
In December, Napoles was convicted along with Revilla’s legislative officer Richard Cambe, in the first decision handed down by the Sandiganbayan in connection with the P10-billion pork barrel scam, in which legislators’ PDAF allocations were funneled into bogus foundations linked to the businesswoman in exchange for kickbacks.
The same court acquitted Revilla, citing the failure of the prosecution to establish his connection to the scheme.
In her plea, Napoles said she could not be the main plunderer, being a private individual, and claimed that Revilla’s acquittal would lead to the lack of a main plunderer in the case.
But the court said while it did not find sufficient evidence to convict the former senator, there was “overwhelming evidence” presented to show that Cambe and Napoles were the main plunderers in the case.
The court also disagreed with Napoles’ contention that the amount supposedly pocketed by Cambe was below P50 million, the threshold set for plunder charges.
Napoles argued that the prosecution only presented P13.9 million in alleged kickbacks.
Citing records from the financial ledgers kept by whistleblower Benhur Luy, however, the ruling said the amassed ill-gotten wealth reached a total of P124.5 million.
“The prosecution was able to prove in evidence that Napoles, although a private individual, not only deliberately performed acts that led to a series of misappropriation, conversion for private gain or misuse of government funds, specifically the PDAF of former Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. but also took part in the conception or ‘planning’ of how to divert the PDAF for private gain,” read the decision.
The decision was written by Associate Justice Geraldine Faith Econg.
The Sandiganbayan also refuted Napoles’ accusation of conspiracy between Cambe and Luy, stressing that the supposed nongovernmental organizations were all creations of Napoles.
“Napoles has control of the bank accounts of these NGOs. In fact, every time a big withdrawal is made from these bank accounts, it was Napoles whom the bank calls to verify or confirm the withdrawals, instead of the NGO’s president or officers,” the court said.
Napoles and Cambe were sentenced to “reclusion perpetua,” or imprisonment of up to 40 years, and were perpetually disqualified from holding public office.
Napoles is serving her sentence at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City, while Cambe has been sent to New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
Other pork barrel cases, which implicate former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, remain pending in the Third and Fifth Divisions of the Sandiganbayan.
Out on bail, acquitted
Enrile was allowed to post bail on humanitarian grounds in 2015 because of his advanced age and supposed frail health.
Estrada was allowed to post bail in 2016 after the court deemed the plunder case weak for failing to pinpoint a “main plunderer.”
Revilla was released in December 2018 after the Sandiganbayan acquitted him of charges that he pocketed more than P200 million in commissions from his PDAF allocations.
Enrile, Estrada and Revilla are running for senator in May’s midterm elections.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.