Foiled flight of Pharmally’s Dargani siblings spurs more questions – Hontiveros
MANILA, Philippines — Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. executives Mohit Dargani and his sister, Twinkle Dargani, spent P1.8 million for a chartered flight that would have spirited them out of the country, raising fresh questions about their tax payments and real income, and possible backers, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said on Wednesday.
Citing records she had obtained, Hontiveros asked how the siblings could have afforded the $37,000 cost of the chartered flight operated by Singapore-based Seletar Jet Charter Pte Ltd when they paid taxes that indicated small incomes.
Mohit, the Pharmally corporate secretary and treasurer, paid P97,241 in income tax in 2020, while Twinkle, the company president, paid only P1,000 — measly sums in comparison to the multibillion-peso contracts awarded to the company by the government.
“If the Darganis could pay such an amount, almost P2 million, for a chartered flight, it appears they did not pay the right income tax,” Hontiveros said at an online press briefing.
“Aside from that, if they were not the ones who paid, the question then is who settled the bill? The Darganis must be very important to that person who paid for it,” she said.
On Nov. 14, the Senate’s security arm arrested the Darganis aboard a Learjet 60 before it was to take off from the Davao City airport for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The two were trying to escape after an arrest warrant was issued against them by the Senate blue ribbon committee, which had cited them in contempt for refusing to produce documents related to Pharmally’s transactions with the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) for pandemic supplies.
The Darganis are now in the custody at the Senate in Pasay City, along with Pharmally director Linconn Ong, who was also cited for contempt for what the senators considered to be his evasive and inconsistent testimony.
Hontiveros also questioned the “glaring oversight” of the Bureau of Immigration personnel, who allowed the Darganis to board the plane despite a lookout bulletin order issued for the pair as early as Sept. 25.
“How and why were they allowed to board the aircraft in the first place,” she said.
But the “biggest question of all,” the senator said, was: “Is there a reason why they chose Davao airport as their departure point?”
Pharmally, which had a paid-up capital of only P625,000, bagged P11.5 billion worth of contracts, mostly with the PS-DBM, to provide face masks and shields, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 test kits, and other pandemic supplies to the Department of Health (DOH).
The PS-DBM contracted Pharmally after the DOH transferred at least P42 billion of its pandemic response funds to the procurement office last year.
The PS-DBM was headed by then Budget Undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who resigned from the government in June this year.
Flagged by COA
The DOH fund transfer was flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA) for lack of supporting documents, triggering the blue ribbon committee’s investigation.
The panel chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon has unearthed several alleged irregularities with Pharmally’s contracts, including deliveries of allegedly substandard face shields with tampered production dates, nearly expired test kits, and falsified inspection reports, among others.
The Senate also learned about the alleged role of Michael Yang, President Rodrigo Duterte’s Chinese friend and former economic adviser, who was said to be a financial backer of the company. Yang has denied that claim made by detained Pharmally director Ong.
In its partial report, the committee said there was a “grand conspiracy” with Duterte’s “imprimatur” to defraud the government of billions of pesos and recommended criminal charges against Yang, Lao, and his former colleagues in the PS-DBM, and Pharmally executives, including the Dargani siblings.
Lao went into hiding after he was ordered arrested by the blue ribbon panel on Nov. 5 for consecutive unexcused absences. He sent a letter to the panel to reconsider the arrest order but was rebuffed.
The Senate has asked the Supreme Court to nullify an order by the President to stop executive officials from continuing to participate in the blue ribbon inquiry.
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