Saturday, May 26, 2012

Laundering, plunder charges eyed vs CJ

MANILA, Philippines - A prosecution spokesman yesterday said the dizzying movement of funds in Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar accounts as alleged by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales in the impeachment trial is proof of money laundering. Quezon Rep. Erin Tañada also warned that Corona can be charged with plunder even after he is convicted. “Outside of the impeachment case, if there’s going to be a case for plunder and graft, then the Ombudsman may take such initiative after the impeachment proceedings,” Tañada said. He said other questions that the Chief Justice has to answer are whether he owned the dollars, where the money came from, who was the real owner of the funds if he did not own them, and why he agreed to hide or launder the money if it belonged to another person. Tañada said as far as the prosecution is concerned, Corona is the owner of millions of dollars in bank deposits attributed to him by the Ombudsman. “The deposits were in his name as reported by the banks to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC),” Tañada said. Morales told the Senate impeachment court on Monday that based on a report submitted to her by the AMLC, Corona kept 82 dollar accounts in five banks between 2003 and 2011, and made more than 400 transactions during that period, transferring funds from one account to another. She said the Chief Justice also had several peso accounts, from which he moved funds amounting to more than P200 million. Tañada said the Ombudsman’s testimony bolsters the prosecution’s argument that the Chief Justice failed to declare certain assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). “Regardless of whether those funds are legal or illegal, the point is Chief Justice Corona did not declare them in his SALN. Such nondisclosure is included in the impeachment charges,” he said. He said the prosecution could not understand why the movement of funds in the dollar accounts the Ombudsman linked to Corona escalated during the election period in 2004 and 2007. “What is the connection of those deposits to the elections?” he asked. Another prosecution spokesman, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, said the decision of Corona’s lawyers to bring Morales to the impeachment court as a “hostile” witness boomeranged on their client. “It appears that the defense panel’s gamble did not pay off. It was the defense lawyers who sought the testimony of the Ombudsman, and not the prosecutors. They have planned to punch holes in the testimony of Ombudsman Morales, but it did not happen,” Angara said. He also criticized the defense for trying to insinuate that the Ombudsman was part of a conspiracy to remove Corona from office. Chief prosecution spokesman Rep. Miro Quimbo of Marikina, on the other hand, chided defense lawyers for labeling the Ombudsman’s testimony as “hearsay.” He said Morales’ damaging statements cannot be classified as hearsay as they were based on a document, which is the report of the AMLC on its monitoring of Corona’s bank transactions. “They were the ones who brought in the Ombudsman. And when their plan backfired, they are now discrediting her testimony,” he said. End of the line Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said because of the damaging disclosures on Corona’s alleged $10-million bank accounts, they sense the “end game” at hand in his impeachment trial. “The moment of truth is here. This is the end game in one or two days,” Belmonte told reporters, adding he continues to look forward to Corona testifying to clarify the latest allegations against him. Gonzales said that “because of the Ombudsman’s revelation, it will be extremely difficult for any senator to acquit him.” When asked whether the latest disclosures at the trial was the final nail on Corona’s coffin, Belmonte said even at the start of trial they were convinced that they had a strong case to convict the Chief Justice. “We already have a prima facie case, and we believe that in the course of the initial witnesses of the defense, they only made it worse for themselves,” he said. The Speaker said as early as Friday or before Morales first testified, he received a thick envelope containing a copy of the report of the Office of the Ombudsman on its investigation into Corona’s alleged dollar accounts. He said the sealed envelope, which bore the seal of the Office of the Ombudsman, was delivered to his house in Quezon City by Morales’ staff. Belmonte said he did not want to open the envelope alone so he called Gonzales to study the document with him. Sifting through it, Gonzales said they were able to see that Corona has accumulated some P660 million in deposits in the past nine years or shortly after he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He said their estimate did not include Corona’s other assets such as the reported condominium units. “In the report, the investigating team summarized the salaries, allowances and other perks of the Corona couple for this period and it could only be this much pesos (P36 million). But here are his acquired properties during this period, and then here is his peso and dollar accounts and when they computed them, it amounted to P660 million something,” Gonzales said, emphasizing that the amounts, taken together, are grossly disproportionate to the entire income of the Coronas during that period. He also chided Corona for demanding the resignation of Morales because of what he said was her misleading testimony. The House leaders said they saw nothing wrong with being furnished a copy of the Ombudsman’s report as the chamber is the sole body authorized by the Constitution to initiate an impeachment case against impeachable officials. “Presumably, the aim of the Ombudsman is while they can’t file a case yet against an incumbent impeachable official, they can refer the documents to the House for initiation of an impeachment case,” Belmonte said. Gonzales said the Ombudsman probe showed that records of bank transactions made by the Chief Justice from 2003 to 2011 involved at least $10 million and over P200 million. The Ombudsman also weighed the income of Corona and his wife Cristina during that period and compared it to the “circuitous” bank accounts. He added that the first portion of the Ombudsman’s report included a review of the Chief Justice’s properties such as land titles, register of deeds, motor vehicles, documents from the Senate impeachment court, and the records of Corona’s bank accounts as collated by the AMLC. Basis of new impeachment Asked why the Ombudsman had to send them a copy of the report barely three days before she was summoned to appear before the Senate impeachment court, Gonzales said it is probably because the House of Representatives has authority to pursue impeachment charges. He noted that the Ombudsman’s authority is limited only to the investigation of impeachable officials while the filing of an impeachment complaint is the role of Congress. They said some information in the Ombudsman’s report can “be the basis of a new impeachment complaint once the one year ban lifts.” “But of course we can only do that once the impeachment, the one year ban expires and assuming that Chief Justice Corona is acquitted or still not impeached by December,” Gonzales said. He said only Corona’s lawyers should be blamed on why the information exploded in their faces because they insisted on bringing the Ombudsman to the witness stand. – More problems for CJ Meanwhile, Teofisto Guingona III said Corona may have failed to declare some P27.933 million in mutual funds in his SALN in 2004, as stated in entries of the report submitted by Morales to the impeachment court. “The transaction code said, BYMF, which meant ‘buy mutual fund’,” Guingona said, referring to page 2 of the 17-page AMLC report that Corona purchased the P27.933-million Philam dollar bond fund on May 17, 2004. The purchase was monitored by the AMLC under account number 16874, made by “for the account of” the Chief Justice. The senator noted that Corona failed to declare this in his 2004 SALN when records showed that the mutual funds were sold 11 months after the transaction was made, or on April 6, 2005. When it was his turn to question the Ombudsman, Guingona pointed out that P3.3 million in cash and investments in 2004 and 2005 SALNs “still existed but it was not reported.” “It should have appeared in his SALN on Dec. 31, 2004,” he said. The transaction, a purchase of mutual funds, is not covered by the confidentiality clause under the law on foreign currency deposits, according to Guingona. But Corona’s lawyers Tranquil Salvador III and Rico Paolo Quicho debunked the allegations and maintained that the Ombudsman failed to authenticate the AMLC report, and as such, it should not be accepted as evidence by the court. “She was asked if she verified it, she said no. How can you ask a witness about a document who did not and can’t authenticate it? So that’s just a conclusion, it has no basis, which cannot be established as a fact. We respect it because it’s a question coming from a senator-judge,” Quicho said. Salvador reiterated that “any document you intend to present in court, should generally be identified by the person who prepared the same.” “Our question is who made the AMLC records being waved by the Ombudsman inside the court?” Salvador asked. The defense team said the Chief Justice has vowed to continue the fight until the impeachment court issues its verdict. They also vehemently denied that Corona is resigning as a result of the latest developments in the trial. – Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero - By Jess Diaz