Lawyer: Napoles no public official, can’t be charged with plunder
MANILA, Philippines – The lawyer of Janet Lim-Napoles told the anti-graft court on Thursday that his client should not be charged with plunder over her alleged involvement in the pork barrel scam.
Atty. Stephen David said in a hearing before the Sandiganbayan first division that Napoles’ plunder raps should be dismissed because she is not a public official.
Plunder is a criminal non-bailable offense for public officials who amassed at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth.
“It should be the public officer who should amass ill-gotten wealth for plunder. The information alleges that it is my client who misappropriated the funds,” David told the justices.
He added that based on the information in indicting Napoles for plunder, the alleged mastermind seemed to be charged with bribery.
“According to the information, the entire PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) was sent to Napoles and other government officials by way of bribery. If Mrs. Napoles is the one who amassed it, it should not be plunder, because it is for public officials, not private,” David told the court.
Associate Justice Rafael Lagos, however, said the information alleged Napoles committed plunder by conspiracy with public officials.
Division chair Associate Justice Efren Dela Cruz also said the information said Napoles earned more than P50 million, which is the threshold that constitutes plunder.
The Office of the Special Prosecutor under the Ombudsman also said the funds allegedly plundered by Napoles are public in nature because these are PDAF.
In an interview after the hearing, David maintained that Napoles should not be liable for plunder.
“Essentially, our argument is to dismiss the plunder,” David said, adding that the information used against Napoles said the alleged mastermind used the PDAF for bribery.
“If that’s what they’re saying, they should dismiss plunder, because that’s not what plunder constitutes. In plunder, a public official gains ill-gotten wealth, not a private individual,” he added in Filipino.
Napoles is a co-accused in the plunder and graft charges of Senators Ramon Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada.
The pork barrel scam is an elaborate scheme of allegedly diverting billions of lawmakers’ funds, meant to easy poverty in their constituencies, to ghost projects for kickbacks.
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