Prosecutors block Dichaves plea to explain indictment before arrest
State prosecutors have opposed the plea of former President Joseph Estrada’s alleged dummy, Jaime Dichaves, to require them first to explain the basis for the indictment before the Sandiganbayan could order his arrest for the nonbailable plunder case.
In a 16-page comment-opposition, the Ombudsman’s Office of the Special Prosecutor said the allegations in the plunder charge sheet were already clear enough, and the prosecution should not be required to show Dichaves himself acquired ill-gotten wealth.
The prosecution defended the sufficiency of the allegations in the information, which accused Dichaves of being “in conspiracy” with Estrada to pocket public funds through the “Jose Velarde” account with the now-defunct Equitable PCI Bank.
The OSP rejected Dichaves’ plea that it should be required to specify which evidence shows that he acquired ill-gotten wealth and which “overt criminal acts” he allegedly committed to constitute the offense of plunder.
Dichaves claimed the information accused only Estrada of amassing ill-gotten wealth, and failed to state the former’s role in the alleged scheme.
But, the prosecution said Section 12 of the Republic Act No. 7659, or the plunder law, provided that the public officer can act “in connivance with business associates or other persons,” putting Dichaves in the role of Estrada’s co-conspirator.
“There is no merit in accused Dichaves’ contention that the Amended Information should alleged acts [sic] showing that accused Dichaves amassed, accumulated and acquired ill-gotten wealth,” read the comment. “The Amended Information charged accused Dichaves in conspiracy with former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.”
It added that under Section 2 of the plunder law, it is “enough that those who participated, including accused Dichaves, in the commission of the crime of plunder shall also be punished for the same crime.”
Stripping the motion of its legal jargon, the OSP pointed out that the Dichaves camp, led by Estrada’s hotshot defender Estelito Mendoza, is effectively seeking a judicial determination of probable cause for the issuance of an arrest warrant.
Dichaves stressed in an April 3 motion that the prosecution should identify first which of the voluminous case records serves as the particular basis to order his arrest.
But, the OSP said the Supreme Court in its Dec. 7 decision already upheld the Ombudsman’s finding of probable cause when it denied Dichaves’s petition challenging the indictment. The said SC ruling paved the way for the case to finally proceed at the Sandiganbayan.
The prosecution added that specifying the evidence would be an “encroachment” of the court’s duty to judicially determine the existence of probable cause for the purposes of an arrest warrant.
At the same time, the OSP rejected Dichaves’s plea to be provided with the copies of the prosecution’s evidence proving his guilt for the crime of plunder.
The prosecution said it “strongly submits” that the proper and appropriate time to show Dichaves the evidence would be the trial stage.
“It is still premature, at this stage, to hand accused Dichaves the pieces of evidence pointing to his participation in the commission of the crime of plunder,” the comment read.
The businessman claims to be the true owner of the Jose Velarde bank account. Prosecutors alleged Estrada conspired with Dichaves to use the account to stash P3.23 billion in ill-gotten wealth, including commissions from the government’s purchase of shares from leisure firm Belle Corp.
Dichaves, however, could not be tried alongside Estrada in Criminal Case No. 26558, as he slipped out of the country by the time the Sandiganbayan first ordered his arrest on Jan. 29, 2002.
He only returned on Nov. 19, 2010, three years after the former president was convicted for plunder in September 2007 but pardoned only six weeks later. (Estrada placed second in the 2010 presidential elections and became incumbent Manila mayor since June 2013.)
The Sandiganbayan proceedings only recently resumed after the Supreme Court in December lifted a three-year temporary restraining order and upheld the validity of the Ombudsman’s 2011 reinvestigation of the case.
Mendoza invoked the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature of allegations as part of due process in Dichaves’s case.
This was the same tactic he had employed in the pork barrel scam cases of former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., although the legal heavyweight was arguably more successful in the senior senator’s case. JE
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