Sandiganbayan orders Marcos crony to return $50-M loot in nuclear plant deal
The Sandiganbayan First Division has ordered businessman Herminio Disini, a crony of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to surrender $50.6 million in commissions that he received for helping two foreign firms obtain the contract to build the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in 1974.
The antigraft court said the commissions were “ill-gotten” and that Disini should reconvey to the government the total amount, with interest, until fully paid.
“The evidence presented by the Republic proves that Disini used his influence and close relationship with President Marcos to obtain and amass large amounts of money, which he subsequently stored in various accounts,” the court ruled in a decision issued on April 11.
Although it found Marcos to have had a “personal financial interest” in the transaction, the Sandiganbayan said there was no evidence to show that either Marcos or his wife, Imelda, received any part of the commissions from the BNPP deal.
“Considering that there is no preponderant evidence that defendant Marcoses received any part of these commissions, the Court cannot pronounce any liability on their part,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Pay-offs shared with dictator
The court also found no evidence to support several other allegations of the government, such as that Marcos ordered the massive and unlawful withdrawals of assets from the National Treasury, the Central Bank and other depository institutions; that Marcos and Disini embezzled government funds or used them for their own benefit; and that Disini acted as a dummy for the Marcoses in controlling several corporations.
The decision ruled on Civil Case 0013 in connection with the BNPP that the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) filed in the Sandiganbayan in 1987, against Marcos, Imelda and Rodolfo Jacob, an officer of the Disini-owned Herdis Corp. Jacob turned state witness in the civil case. The ruling was penned by Justice Rafael Lagos and concurred in by Justices Rodolfo Ponferrada and Efren de la Cruz.
The government charged Disini of having facilitated the award of the BNPP contract to two US firms, the Burns & Roe engineering company and Westinghouse Electric Co., which allegedly paid Disini $18 million in bribes. The pay-offs allegedly went to companies co-owned by Marcos and Disini.
Marcos micromanaged deal
In its April 11 ruling, the Sandiganbayan said Disini used his ties with Marcos to secure the BNPP contract for Westinghouse and Burns & Roe, and got commissions in return.
It said the testimony of several witnesses clearly showed that Disini and Marcos were close associates or relatives by affinity, and that Marcos agreed to have Disini act as the exclusive agent for the two US firms in the BNPP transaction.
It said Marcos’ participation in the transaction was driven by his financial interest in the lucrative deal.
“The Westinghouse contract was a very lucrative deal not to catch the attention of the President, and given Disini’s special position in the Marcos circle of associates, it would not be stretching one’s imagination too much to assume that they hoped to profit from the deal,” the court said.
It also found “unusual” the level of attention that Marcos and Disini gave to the power plant contract, as well as their alertness to minute details and the substantial amount and efforts they exerted.
“And the only reason this court could think of behind the former President’s level of micromanaging the BNPP contract is a personal financial interest,” it added.
Still a free man
The state presented as witnesses Jacob, the president of Disini’s Herdis Group, Herdis vice president Angelo Manahan and Westinghouse representative Jesus Vergara.
Vergara testified on how Disini became involved in the BNPP project, as well as on the closeness of Disini and Marcos. Jacob and Manahan both testified on the close personal relationship between Marcos and Disini.
According to state prosecutors, Disini who was the dictator’s golfing buddy, was married to the Marcos family doctor, Paciencia Escolin, a cousin of Imelda.
Disini also has two pending criminal cases (corruption of public officials and violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act).
In 1997, former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto thrice dismissed the charges against Disini for lack of factual and legal basis.
The PCGG elevated the case to the Supreme Court which in 2003 ordered the filing of graft and bribery charges against Disini.
He was ordered arrested by the Sandiganbayan in 2004 but has paid a bail of P54,000 and remains a free man. He is said to be residing in Austria where he is rumored to have bought a title and a castle.
Worst debt nightmare
The nuclear power plant that he brokered has never been operated and remains to be the country’s worst debt nightmare.
Construction of the 620-megawatt nuclear power plant which sits on a 357-hectare government reservation at Napot Point in Morong, Bataan, began in 1975 and was completed in 1984 at the inflated cost of $2.3 billion, nearly four times the initial bid of $600 million.
In April 1986, President Corazon Aquino mothballed the BNPP because of safety concerns, amid claims that the plant was built on an earthquake fault.
In 1988, the Aquino government filed a suit in the US against Westinghouse and Burns & Roe for bribery, fraud and racketeering and sought the return of the money paid to them for the construction of the power plant. In May 1993, a New Jersey court acquitted Westinghouse and Burns & Roe.
In 1995, the Ramos government signed a $100 million settlement with Westinghouse.
But Filipino taxpayers were still left with the burden of paying for the loans incurred for the BNPP project, whose interest payments alone amounted to $300,000 a day, as officials have claimed.
It was only in 2007 that the Philippines fully paid up the country’s BNPP obligations totaling $2.8 billion.
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