PNP looks into 8 bank accounts of ‘drug lord’
ALBUERA, Leyte—The Philippine National Police is asking the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to look into eight bank accounts from which checks for P500 million were allegedly issued by suspected drug lord Kerwin Espinosa to local and police officials on his payroll.
Chief Insp. Jovie Espenido, Albuera police chief, said the PNP wanted the AMLC’s help to verify if the bank accounts indeed belonged to Kerwin, said to be the biggest drug lord in Eastern Visayas.
At least 500 checks were recovered by the police at the back of a chapel near the houses of the Espinosas in Sitio Tinago, Barangay Benolho, on Aug. 15.
“An informant called and informed me that checks placed in short brown envelope and in folder, could be found at the back of the chapel in Benolho. The checks, about 500 pieces, belonged to and were issued by Kerwin,” Espenido said.
When his men went to check, he added, they found a brown envelope behind the chapel. It took them awhile to open the envelope out of fear that it might contain a bomb.
Espenido said he believed the checks were intended for the police to find to help them gather evidence against Kerwin’s illegal drug trade.
Initial investigation showed that the checks belonged to Kerwin, said the police chief, but the PNP needed the AMLC’s help to verify this.
Espenido said these were returned checks, which meant the recipients had already withdrawn the amount, which ranged from P400,000 to P20 million. The checks were issued from 2014 to June 2016.
Investigation showed that the checks represented either monthly stipend of or cash advance made by the officials to protect Kerwin’s illegal business.
Espenido, however, declined to identify the recipients, saying only that they included elective officials and officers of police and Army, even some media members.
He said the checks were forwarded to the PNP crime laboratory while the police asked the help of the ALMC.
Once they had verified that these people had indeed received money from Kerwin, Espenido said the PNP would reveal the names.
But Espenido said that he would welcome any one of those who reportedly received the checks to come to his office and cooperate in the investigation.
Kerwin, whose operation reportedly covers the entire Eastern Visayas composed of Biliran, Eastern Samar, Samar, Northern Samar, Leyte and Southern Leyte provinces, as well as Cebu province, remains at large despite the shoot-on-sight order issued by President Duterte.
His father, Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. who was identified by the President as a drug protector, has appealed for his son’s surrender.
The mayor reported for work on Tuesday, 15 days after he surrendered to PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa to deny his involvement in his son’s operation.
Two of the mayor’s henchmen, who were arrested in a buy-bust operation outside Kerwin’s house last month, claimed that the elder Espinosa was involved in Kerwin’s operation.
The police also recovered P88 million worth of “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) from the house of the mayor, which was beside Kerwin’s house in Barangay Benolho early this month.
The mayor is now facing a complaint for illegal possession of drugs at the provincial prosecutor’s office.
Espenido said he had not met Mayor Espinosa yet since the chief executive reported for work.
He admitted that he wanted to confront the embattled mayor over the issues against him.
“But I assure him of police protection. But really my hands are itchy ….” he said. “He has been accused of peddling illegal drugs and yet he has still the gall to return here. He is thick-faced.”
In Manila, Malacañang said due process was being followed in the case of Mayor Espinosa.
He has returned to his post “exactly because there’s due process,” said Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar.
Andanar said drug suspects like the mayor were required to submit counteraffidavits, which have to be checked. In the meantime, the suspects could not be jailed, he said.
If Espinosa’s counteraffidavit could not disprove his involvement in the drug trade, the police would file a formal complaint against him, he said.
“There is a presumption of innocence and the principle of proving beyond reasonable doubt only happens when the case is filed in the courts,” Andanar said.
He also said the surrender of 600,000 drug users and dealers, as well as of public officials whom the President linked to illegal drugs, indicated the success of the war on drugs. With a report from Leila B. Salaverria in Manila
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