Hostile witness Ombudsman drops bombshell on Corona
MANILA, Philippines—Defense lawyers called for a hostile witness. What they got was a bombshell.
A combative Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales took the witness stand as an adverse witness for the defense on Monday. And true to her billing, she brought out what appeared to be pieces of evidence damaging to impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Morales submitted to the impeachment court a copy of a 17-page report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) detailing a total of 705 transactions on Corona’s alleged $10 million in deposits.
She said the report was among the reasons why she had written Corona last April 20 as part of her office’s “fact-finding” investigation into his alleged ill-gotten wealth. She said she was also acting on three separate complaints with essentially the same allegations.
“I first sought the information from agencies and then I referred the complaints to the Anti-Money Laundering Council because I thought that the charges included some matters that were within the jurisdiction of the AMLC,” Morales told the court.
“And then later, I constituted a panel of investigators and eventually, I wrote the AMLC seeking assistance towards the determination of the truth of the charges,” she added.
Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas spent much of his direct examination of Morales, questioning the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction over the Chief Justice in connection with an anti-graft investigation.
Cuevas said the Ombudsman could not “compel” Corona to respond to the allegation, citing the constitutional provision against self-incrimination by a respondent. But Morales stood her ground, saying she was “mandated” to conduct the investigation under Section 26 of the Ombudsman Act.
“I did not compel him, your honor,” she replied. “I was just following the mandate of the law. That’s his lookout if he did not want to answer.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, reminded Cuevas that he could raise the provision against self-incrimination only “when a question is addressed to the respondent.”
Defense counsels earlier manifested in open court that Corona would testify in the impeachment trial. But they first asked that the Ombudsman and complainants on his alleged ill-gotten wealth testify in court.
Cuevas maintained that he was invoking the right against self-incrimination because it was “fundamental and enshrined under our Constitution.”
Under questioning by Enrile, Morales admitted that her office has indeed been probing Corona’s alleged foreign currency deposits. But she said the investigation has remained at the level of a “case build-up” and has not determined if the complaints would merit a preliminary investigation.
Morales said she asked Corona to respond to the complaints because “we wanted him to enlighten us.”
“Because as I said early on, I had sought the help of another agency for purpose of determining whether there was indeed unexplained wealth or things to that effect, which would be violative of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act,” she added.
In seeking the testimony of Morales and the complainants, the defense strategy was to bring the matter of the alleged $10-million bank deposits at the heart of the impeachment proceedings.
Corona’s camp wanted Morales and company to accuse him under oath of owning such deposits, an allegation the Chief Justice had vehemently denied.
Under questioning by Cuevas, Morales admitted that none of the three complaints she had received mentioned the existence of an alleged $10-million deposit. She said she got the information from the AMLC.
Cuevas questioned how the AMLC came up with the documents and why Morales did not mention in her letter to Corona that she had been in touch with the council. Morales said she did not find it “necessary” to do so.
Enrile said the Ombudsman might not be competent to respond to questions on how the AMLC had gather information on the alleged $10-million account.
“If there’s a violation by the AMLC, that is another issue altogether,” he said.
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