‘Jose Velarde’ trial to proceed–SC
The Ombudsman can finally proceed with the prosecution of businessman Jaime Dichaves for plunder at the Sandiganbayan after the confessed owner of the “Jose Velarde” dummy account which led to the ouster of his friend and then President Joseph Estrada held off his day in court for nearly 15 years.
In a 24-page decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the high court denied Dichaves’ petition claiming the Ombudsman abused its discretion when it filed plunder charges against him. The court also lifted the temporary restraining order it issued against the Sandiganbayan which was supposed to start its trial on the case in July 2013.
“The Sandiganbayan is directed to immediately proceed with the arraignment and trial of petitioner Jaime Dichaves,” said Leonen.
The ruling was concurred in by Associate Justice and acting Second Division Chair Arturo Brion and Associate Justices Mariano Del Castillo, Jose Catral Mendoza and Bienvenido Reyes.
The decision marks the end of Dichaves’ evasion from justice which started in 2000 when he fled the country to avoid the arrest warrant issued against him following the House impeachment of Estrada.
In the Dec. 7 decision, Leonen said the tribunal found nothing “whimsical, capricious or arbitrary” in finding probable cause to charge Dichaves with plunder.
Leonen said the Ombudsman “correctly” charged Dichaves with plunder in conspiracy with Estrada as it was Dichaves “who orchestrated the consummation of transactions and received from (Belle Corp. vice chair and director Willy) Ocier the check representing the commission; and that Dichaves deposited the check to the ‘Jose Velarde’ account which was shown to be that of the former President.”
Leonen said the court found no reason to interfere in the Ombudsman’s power to investigate Dichaves because it was “in a better position to assess the strengths or weaknesses of the evidence on hand to make a finding of probable cause.”
“[I]t must be emphasized that only opinion and reasonable belief are sufficient at this stage. Thus, petitioner’s other defense contesting the finding of probable cause that is highly factual in nature must be threshed out in a full-blown trial, and not in a special civil action for certiorari before this court (Supreme Court),” Leonen said.
Dichaves’ plunder case stemmed from two charges filed as early as 2001 shortly after Estrada’s ouster.
Dichaves, along with Estrada crony William Gatchalian, was charged with direct and indirect bribery and plunder in connection with the “Jose Velarde” account.
He was also charged with violations of the antigraft law along with former Government Service Insurance System President Federico Pascual; Social Security System Carlos “Chuckie” Arellano; and Ocier in connection with the purchase of private company’s stocks by the SSS and GSIS upon Estrada’s instructions.
Pascual, Arellano and Ocier were granted immunity for their testimony and dropped from the case.
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