De Lima: US boosts graft cases vs Napoles
LOS ANGELES—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said its US counterpart will boost the Philippine cases against alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) took action on Tuesday to seize $12.5 million in California property and assets from Napoles, the detained businesswoman who is at the heart of a massive corruption scandal.
The agency filed a civil forfeiture complaint, contending that Napoles bought the assets for herself and her daughters with a decade’s worth of stolen money intended to fight poverty in the Philippines.
The assets include a motel near Disneyland; properties in Covina and Irvine; money from the sale of a unit in the luxury Ritz Carlton hotel condominium in Los Angeles; a Porsche Boxster she had bought for her daughter; and a stake in a California-based consulting company.
“The justice department will not allow the United States to become a playground for the corrupt or a place to hide and invest stolen riches,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement.
The complaint filed in a Los Angeles Federal District Court said Napoles paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Philippine politicians and officials from 2004 to 2012 to get $200 million in funds which were supposed to help poor Filipinos.
The organizations that Napoles ran did not deliver the services, and she took the money for her own personal use, the DOJ said.
Napoles, already in jail in the Philippines for kidnapping her cousin in 2014, has been charged along with family members in the corruption case.
Last year, she gave prosecutors a list of names implicating more than 100 people in the scandal, which resulted in the arrest of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla Jr., among others.
“That US case will have no negative effect on our own cases. On the contrary, it will complement and bolster our cases, both the civil case for forfeiture in the Regional Trial Court and the plunder and graft cases in the Sandiganbayan,” De Lima said in a statement.
Napoles, tagged as the brains behind the P10-billion pork barrel scam, is facing a slew of lawsuits for her alleged scheme that funneled funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of lawmakers to fake foundations.
These cases include a still pending petition for civil forfeiture filed on Feb. 25, 2014, by the Anti-Money Laundering Council at the Manila Regional Trial Court, and two supplemental pleas to cover additional assets, De Lima said.
The court has issued asset preservation orders on these assets, which bear “the same effect as a freeze order, effective during the pendency of the case,” De Lima said.
Napoles is also facing several cases in the Sandiganbayan, including five counts of plunder and several counts of malversation and graft.
The three senators—Enrile, Estrada and Revilla—are on trial at the Sandiganbayan for allegedly colluding with Napoles to get kickbacks from their PDAF allocations. They have denied wrongdoing.
US move lauded
Prosecution witnesses against Napoles in her cases in the Philippines welcomed the US move, saying they have been vindicated, according to their lawyer, Raj Mendoza.
Mendoza said Benhur Luy, a former Napoles finance officer, felt secure that the the long arm of justice had finally caught up with Napoles, pointing out that substantial amounts of stolen money had been kept in the United States.
Depriving Napoles access to these funds will diminish her capacity to influence the results of the cases filed against her or to get back at the whistle-blowers, Mendoza said.
Lawyer Levito Baligod, a private complainant, said the US forfeiture proceedings could serve as prima facie evidence that Napoles’ wealth came from illegal sources.
De Lima said she expected the United States to turn over the seized money to the Philippines, citing the case of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, a former military controller accused of stealing P303.27 million in public funds.
In June, the United States returned to the Philippines $1.3 million, the second tranche of proceeds from assets seized from Garcia.
Earlier, the US government turned over to the Philippines $100,000 in cash seized from Garcia’s sons when they entered the Philippines in December 2003.
De Lima said that if the US justice department succeeds in seizing the Napoles assets, the Philippines will request turnover of the money. “It is US policy to keep no share of stolen money,” De Lima said.
“Similar to what happened in the case of General Garcia, it is possible they will turn over the entire proceeds to us. Or, at the very least, asset sharing,” she added. Reports from AP, AFP, Tarra Quismundo and Nancy C. Carvajal
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