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Alleged brains in Philippine pork scam eludes arrest
Publication Date : 16-08-2013
“Flight is deemed an admission of guilt.”
Philippines' Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday drew this conclusion after Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother Reynald Lim eluded a posse of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents sent to 28 known addresses of the siblings.
“It’s time for them to face the music and the full arm of the law,” De Lima said, adding that 17 NBI teams were tracking down the siblings.
“Somebody tipped them off,” De Lima said. “Didn’t she brag before that she controls the government?”
Anyone could effect a “citizen’s arrest” in this case because it is “imbued with public interest,” according to De Lima.
Following his rescue in March from three months detention, Benhur Luy, along with five other former workers of Napoles, has accused the businesswoman of masterminding a 10-billion peso (US$230 million) scheme that channelled funds from state agencies and the pork barrel of lawmakers into ghost projects of dummy nongovernment organisations (NGOs) over the past decade.
De Lima told reporters that Napoles and her brother were now regarded as “high-profile fugitives.” She said there would be “no letup” in the manhunt.
At press time on Thursday, De Lima said the siblings were “mobile” and “travelling to and from the National Capital Region,” apparently using some of their 30 vehicles, mostly luxury vehicles like a BMW and Cayenne Porsche, to evade arrest. She pleaded to the public to report any sighting of the two.
“If I were in her place, I would surrender and face the case and the other cases,” the justice secretary said.
De Lima was briefed by the NBI on the hunt since a branch of the Makati City Regional Trial Court issued the warrants of arrest for the detention of Luy, whom Napoles said had pocketed 300,000 pesos he was told to deposit in her bank account and also had taken an unauthorised loan of 5 million pesos ($114,200).
NBI agents failed to find Napoles in her condominium units at Discovery Suites in Ortigas, Pasig City, Pacific Plaza Towers in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City, residences in Dasmariñas Village and Forbes Park in Makati. In all, the NBI agents staked out in 28 known addresses of the siblings.
There had been reported sightings of the vehicles used by the two but these turned out to be “all negative,” De Lima said. “The instruction to the NBI teams was no letup in the search.”
De Lima said she informed President Aquino on Wednesday night about the arrest warrants against Napoles and Lim and that the Chief Executive expected the arrests of the siblings “as soon as possible”.
She said she had instructed the Bureau of Immigration on Wednesday night to alert personnel in all airports and seaports to arrest Napoles and Lim the moment they show up in any of these places.
“A warrant of arrest is effectively a hold-departure order,” De Lima said, adding the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines had likewise been alerted in case the siblings use a private plane to fly out of the country.
She said that those trying to hide the siblings would be liable for harbouring fugitives and obstruction of justice.
De Lima said she was not surprised the siblings had evaded arresting officers, given their resources and connections in government. She said she would order an investigation into how the two got wind of the fact that they were to be arrested.
Told that she had announced to reporters the impending arrests, De Lima retorted that the Napoles lawyers were already in court even before the NBI agents got there to receive their directive.
“So why are you blaming me? Are you blaming me?” she asked. “It’s my duty to announce it, especially since some reporters were asking me about it.”
De Lima texted the DOJ beat reporter about the impending arrest. But already at 2:30pm, Napoles’ lawyers were already in court, observed an Inquirer informant.
She said Napoles’ lawyers had advance information that the charges against the siblings would be filed by state prosecutors.
Probe on scams to go on
With or without Napoles, De Lima said the NBI would continue its inquiry into Napoles’ involvement in the pork barrel scam and the alleged misuse of 900 million pesos from the Malampaya Fund.
“If she continues to be in hiding, continues to be a fugitive, she is deemed to have waived her right to air her side,” she added.
De Lima also defended the decision of Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to approve the reversal of the draft resolution submitted by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera to dismiss the motion for reconsideration earlier filed separately by the NBI and Luy on the illegal detention case against the siblings.
Arellano ordered a review of the resolution dismissing the detention case penned by Navera, which Arellano himself as prosecutor general had initially approved for lack of probable cause.
“It’s normal that the prosecutor general issues a review resolution,” De Lima said. “If he does not agree with the recommendations, they can come up with a review resolution.”
The 17-page review resolution dated August 6 penned by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodoure Villanueva granted the motion for reconsideration filed by the NBI and Luy and ordered that Navera’s resolution dated dated June 10 be reversed. Villanueva also ordered the filing of a serious illegal detention case against Napoles and Lim in court.
Villanueva’s review resolution, which gave more weight to the testimonies of Luy and the NBI, held that Luy had been deprived of his liberty by Napoles and Lim “in the guise of putting him on a spiritual retreat.”
Villanueva said Luy was detained for three months and Napoles had knowledge of this because he was kept at Bahay San Jose, a church residence for priests with whom “she has close ties.” Lim was held liable for carrying out the orders of his sister. Villanueva said it was “highly improbable” Lim would act against his sister.
“The most damning link between the crime and respondent Janet Lim-Napoles is the motive behind complainant Benhur Luy’s deprivation of liberty. Consistent with our earlier finding that the deprivation was undertaken in order to prevent complainant Benhur Luy from divulging information on JLN Group of Companies’ involvement in the fertiliser fund, Malampaya and PDAF scams, it is clear that respondent Janet Lim-Napoles authored and/or orchestrated this unlawful three-month detention,” Villanueva said.
Report any sighting
After meeting with the NBI, De Lima provided reporters a list of the 30 vehicles that could be used by the siblings in evading arrest. She said she got the list from the whistle-blowers. Copies of the list were also given to the operators of the north and south expressways.
These vehicles include mostly luxury vehicles such as a BMW, Cayenne Porsche, Hummer, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota Alphard and two Ford F-150s.
De Lima said photos of Lim and Napoles would be posted in public places—mainly the series of photographs taken by the Inquirer during her visit to the newspaper last week.
With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Philip C. Tubeza and Jerome Aning