Access to bank records of Corona, wife OKd
The Sandiganbayan has allowed the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the bank records of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife, Cristina, as part of the ongoing P131-million forfeiture case against the couple.
The ruling, promulgated on Oct. 23, reversed an earlier resolution by the antigraft court issued in April 2016, siding with Cristina’s motion asking the court to quash the subpoenas issued by the Ombudsman for bank records and witnesses.
The new ruling was penned by Associate Justice Oscar Herrera. Associate Justices Michael Frederick Musngi and Lorifel Pahimna concurred.
In their resolution, the court emphasized the power of the Ombudsman under Republic Act No. 6770 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989 that gives “the office, its investigators and prosecutors the authority to issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum, or make an application of the issuance of such subpoenas before the Sandiganbayan.”
The court also said that “there can be no infraction of the policy of secrecy of bank deposits” because “they can be inquired into upon order of this court if said deposits are the subject of litigation, like in this case.”
The court also allowed the Ombudsman to look into the foreign currency deposits of the Coronas.
This is because while RA 6426 or An Act Instituting a Foreign Currency Deposit System in the Philippines and for Other Purposes, enacted in 1974, ensures the confidentiality of foreign currency deposits, the Ombudsman Law allows its investigators to issue subpoenas and take testimonies for an investigation or inquiry, “including the power to examine and have access to bank accounts and records.”
The Ombudsman earlier issued subpoenas duces tecum to officials of Allied Banking Corp., Land Bank of the Philippines, PS Bank Center and Deutsche Bank AG Manila.
The bank executives were directed to appear at a conference at the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) and the Office of the Ombudsman at the request of the OSP.
In its April 2016 resolution, the Sandiganbayan said it quashed the subpoenas because the court’s “assistance” was being sought at a stage “when the petitioner is still building or beefing up its case.”
The Sandiganbayan also said that allowing the bank officials to appear at the conference might give them the impression that it was the court that needed their presence, “when in fact the court has no participation at all in that conference to be conducted at the Office of the Ombudsman.”
The court added that “it cannot assist either party” and it had to “maintain an attitude of impartiality at the highest level.”
The Ombudsman wants to forfeit the assets of the Corona couple amounting to P131 million after the then Chief Justice was impeached in 2012 for nondisclosure of his foreign currency deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
The forfeiture case against the Coronas was filed in 2014. Corona died on April 29, 2016.
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