Court throws out appeal on dismissed Romulo Neri’s graft case
The Sandiganbayan threw out the appeal of state prosecutors seeking to reverse the dismissal of the graft case of former National Economic Development Authority (Neda) Director General Romulo Neri for the allegedly overpriced National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with Chinese firm ZTE.
In a resolution, the anti-graft court Special Fifth Division said the Office of the Special Prosecutor could no longer seek to reverse Neri’s acquittal in the case through a mere motion for reconsideration.
READ: Romulo Neri cleared in NBN-ZTE graft case
The court said the prosecutors should have elevated the case to the Supreme Court citing grave abuse of discretion by the Sandiganbayan, where “there is clearly none.”
“It being thus obvious that the prosecution simply seeks an ordinary review of the evidence, this remedy may not be resorted to,” the court said.
The court added that the prosecution offered no new evidence that would reverse the earlier resolution that granted Neri’s demurrer to evidence, effectively dismissing the case.
The court maintained its ruling that Neri had no financial or pecuniary interest in the NBN-ZTE deal because he was not within the inner circle of former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos, who was accused of brokering the deal in exchange for commissions.
The court earlier said the prosecution failed to prove Neri was involved in the discussions on the commissions, by his mere acts of playing golf with ZTE officials and sending Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada Jr. as a representative to meet Abalos.
The court added that Lozada’s testimony that Abalos offered P200 million to Neri was a mere hearsay and that it remained unproven if Neri received the money.
The court said the dismissal of the case due to demurrer to evidence could no longer be assailed as it may result in a double jeopardy or double prosecution against Neri.
“Hence, the decision in this case may not be reconsidered through a motion for reconsideration or modified/reversed on appeal as it would place accused Neri in double jeopardy,” the court said.
“In fine, not only has the motion raised no new substantial matters to warrant a modification, much less, a reversal of the assailed decision, but also, and more importantly, the same decision is one of acquittal, in which case, it may no longer be disturbed,” the court said.
The prosecution in their appeal said they were able to present evidence to sustain Neri’s indictment for graft.
READ: State prosecutors appeal dismissal of graft raps vs Romulo Neri
The prosecuting panel said that Neri was aware he and other officials would earn commissions from the botched NBN deal if the contract would be awarded to Chinese firm ZTE; that Neri even played golf with ZTE representatives and Abalos, alleged to be the one who lobbied for ZTE in the project; that Neri reviewed the transaction and approved it despite knowing that there was a better offer from competing bidder Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI); and that Neri testified during the Senate Blue Ribbon committee hearings that he met with Abalos several times about his share in the contract.
Dante Madriaga, ZTE chief designer and consultant, also testified in the Senate that the contract cost was overpriced to $329 million from the original $130 million, the prosecution said.
The principal accused, former president now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was cleared of the charges of graft and breach of ethical conduct when the anti-graft court Fourth Division likewise approved her demurrer to evidence. Also cleared were her co-accused Abalos and former first gentleman Mike Arroyo, who were accused of using their positions to earn from the project.
READ: Sandigan dismisses Arroyo’s NBN-ZTE case
Abalos was acquitted in his separate graft case for having financial interest in the project.
READ: Ex-Comelec chair Abalos acquitted from graft over NBN-ZTE deal
Ironically, star NBN-ZTE scandal witness Lozada, who accused Arroyo of being the mastermind, was convicted of graft and sentenced to 10 years in jail in a separate case for an anomalous land deal when he was president and chief executive officer of the state-owned Philippine Forest Corp. (PFC) in 2007 and 2008.
READ: Jun Lozada convicted of graft, gets 6-10 years
The dismissal of the NBN case against Arroyo was the last of the corruption cases against the former President, whose plunder case involving the raid of P366-million state-run lottery funds at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office was earlier dismissed by the Supreme Court for insufficiency of evidence. RAM/rga
READ: SC junks remaining Arroyo plunder case, sets her free | Arroyo walks free after 4 yrs of hospital detention
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