Tuesday, May 15, 2012

'CJ's dollars in 5 banks, 82 accounts'

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales presented evidence yesterday of alleged “circuitous” bank transactions of Chief Justice Renato Corona involving millions of dollars that he did not declare in his official asset statement. A report submitted to Morales by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) noted “abnormal balances… multiple accounts created for a similar purpose” and “circuitous movement of funds” in the bank transactions, with deposits and withdrawals made on the same day. The AMLC report showed that in 2003, Corona opened one dollar-denominated account. By 2005, he had opened 23 dollar accounts. In 2010, the year Corona was named Chief Justice by then outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the number had soared to 75, with another six dollar accounts opened. Last year, Corona had 82 accounts with a “transactional balance” amounting to $10 million, spread out over five banks. Summoned by the defense and appearing as a hostile witness yesterday before the Senate impeachment court, Morales gave a PowerPoint presentation on the AMLC report, which was submitted to her office in the course of her investigation into several complaints filed against Corona. Objections raised by chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas to the PowerPoint presentation were shot down by the senators, who voted unanimously to allow the presentation of the evidence on an issue that was not included in the original Articles of Impeachment. The accusations on the $10 million, which Corona vehemently denied owning, prompted the defense to ask the Senate to summon Morales. Defense lawyers earlier said Corona would testify before the impeachment court after Morales had faced the Senate. But when prosecutors began their cross-examination of Morales, and it became known that she had a report from the AMLC on Corona’s alleged dollar transactions, Cuevas tried to block her from disclosing further details. Basis for probe Morales said she had not read the Articles of Impeachment. But she said if Corona’s dollar accounts were not included, then her office “all the more” would investigate the issue. Pressed by Cuevas on the purpose of the investigation, Morales said it could be used for a “possible” impeachment “in December.” When Morales asked for permission to present the PowerPoint report, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, put the issue to a vote. According to the 17-page AMLC report, between 2003 and 2011, Corona had eight dollar accounts in the Acropolis branch of Bank of the Philippine Islands, 18 in BPI Tandang Sora, 34 in BPI San Francisco del Monte, one in BPI Management Investment Corp., six in the Katipunan branch of Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), eight in PSBank Cainta, four in the Kamias branch of Allied Banking Corp., two in Deutsche Bank and one in Citibank. “As you can see, this refers to the analysis of dollar accounts, based on transactional accounts submitted by AMLC. The amounts appearing in the tabulation are not account balances but rather transactional balances,” Morales said at the start of her report. Commissioner Heidi Mendoza of the Commission on Audit (COA), substituting for Morales when the Ombudsman said she was “enervated” and needed to rest, said the AMLC recorded 423 bank transactions between 2003 and 2011, with total inflow amounting to $28 million and outflow of $30 million. Morales has tapped the COA for assistance in its probe of Corona. Cuevas, however, protested Mendoza’s taking the witness stand. “At this juncture we rather brought in confused situation… we presented Conchita Morales as hostile witness (but) testifying now is Mrs. Heidi Mendoza. We don’t know whether she is testifying for whom and what her testimony would be. We can’t raise objection, question propounded is not covered by direct examination,” Cuevas said. “Getting consensus from the members of the court that we continue tomorrow with the Ombudsman herself,” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said in response. The Ombudsman earlier wrote a letter to Corona asking him to answer allegations that he has huge foreign currency accounts not reported in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). Cuevas said compelling the chief magistrate to answer would violate his right against self-incrimination. Asked by Cuevas why she did not specify the amount involved in her letter to Corona, Morales said, “I thought it is not necessary.” She said the private complainants did not mention any figure in their complaint filed before her office. Morales said Corona’s immediate reaction when told of the complaint was “the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over me. That’s a phony data and all that…” Concern Senators Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Joker Arroyo have expressed concern over the involvement of AMLC in the Ombudsman’s investigation into Corona’s dollar accounts. Marcos said he was wondering why the AMLC had already apparently started an investigation into Corona’s dollar accounts when the Ombudsman sought its help in April. He said under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the AMLC is required to secure a court order before it can look into bank accounts. “Solely on the basis of a complaint by the Ombudsman, AMLA provided all the information that they had. I do not think that was what the AMLA law intended,” Marcos said. Marcos said that the development was very alarming because it showed that the AMLA could be used for political harassment. “Politically you can see how that can be used on a partisan line,” Marcos said. “So that is how easy to defeat the law (on secrecy of foreign deposits).” Arroyo also expressed his disgust and said he would make a manifestation in today’s legislative session where the proposed amendments to the AMLA would be taken up. Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said that he expects AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino to face grilling from senators on the Chief Justice’s dollar accounts. With Helen Flores - By Christina Mendez