Prosecutors to tap ZTE execs as witnesses | Inquirer News

Prosecutors to tap ZTE execs as witnesses

/ 07:53 AM June 24, 2011

Ombudsman prosecutors may be leaving for China soon to meet with ZTE Corp. officials who are being eyed as witnesses in the trial of Benjamin Abalos and Romulo Neri, two former Arroyo administration officials facing graft charges in connection with the scuttled National Broadband Network (NBN) project.

The Department of Justice has started talks with Chinese officials to pave the way for the meeting, and the “signs have been positive,” said Deputy Special Prosecutor John Turalba.

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Turalba is one of the prosecutors handling the trial of Neri, the former head of the National Economic Development Authority (Neda) who has been charged with graft for allegedly improperly endorsing the award of the NBN project to China’s ZTE Corp.

ZTE won the $329 million contract for the NBN project which seeks to connect government offices nationwide down to the barangay level through a broadband network.

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The project, which was to have been financed with a loan from China, was scuttled by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo after allegations of overpricing and bribery implicating her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, came out at a Senate hearing.

Turalba said the DoJ was talking with Chinese officials to arrange the meeting with the ZTE officials under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.

Prosecutors earlier said they were intending to invite two ZTE officials, Fan Yang and Yu Yong, as witnesses.

Once the meeting is scheduled, Turalba said he and two members of his team would go to China. He said the testimonies of the ZTE officials would be vital in the NBN trials.

“They have bombs to drop,” he said.

Turalba said two prosecutors handling the criminal cases of Abalos will also be going to China.

Abalos, the former chair of the Commission on Elections, is accused of intervening in a contract that was not related to his duties as election chief.

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He is accused of offering a P200-million bribe to Neri in exchange for the latter’s endorsement of the NBN deal with ZTE Corp.

The Ombudsman has charged Neri with violating the antigraft law for allegedly conferring with Abalos on the NBN project even though the latter was not supposed to be involved in it, and for allegedly meeting with ZTE officials when the project was under assessment.

The Ombudsman has, however, cleared Arroyo and her husband of any liability in the NBN-ZTE case.

Should the ZTE officials be reluctant to come to the country to testify, he said the team handling the Neri case is willing to go to China to get their statements.

The Sandiganbayan 5th Division handling the case may even be persuaded to go to China, he said.

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TAGS: Benjamin Abalos, Broadband, Deputy Special Prosecutor John Turalba, prosecutors, Romulo Neri, State witness, XTE Corp.
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