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Philippines probing ex-chief justice's wealth, tax evasion

Publication Date : 01-06-2012

 

After his conviction in the Senate impeachment trial and ouster as the Philippines' Chief Justice for dishonesty in submitting statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), Renato Corona is facing an investigation for alleged ill-gotten wealth and tax evasion, administration officials said yesterday.

“As a result of revelations made during the course of the impeachment trial, certain agencies like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Bureau of Internal Revenue had initiated their own processes to look into possible violations of laws and rules over which they have jurisdiction and mandate to look into,” Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said.

“I don’t think that now that judgment has been rendered by the impeachment court, these processes will also terminate,” Abad said in a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“The administration will not, I believe, interfere in that.”

Assistant Ombudsman Asryman Rafanan said that the agency would use Corona’s waiver on his bank accounts, issued when he appeared in the Senate on Monday, to investigate complaints against him.

One of the complaints involve the forfeiture of assets allegedly disproportionate to the income he had declared in his SALN.

Just a job

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales on Thursday said the investigation was ongoing, but declined to disclose specifics.
In her testimony in the Corona trial, Morales waved a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) purportedly showing the Chief Justice had 82 bank accounts with US$10 million to $12 million in “transactional balances”.

The authenticity of the AMLC paper was not established, but it was repeatedly cited by senator-judges as basis for Corona’s conviction.

Corona impugned the validity of Morales’ supposed evidence. He said he had $2.4 million in bank accounts and did not disclose it because its absolute secretary was guaranteed by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA), or Republic Act No. 6426. He said Morales simply allowed herself to be used by a vengeful President Benigno Aquino.

“I’m not going to say what’s the next step. All I’m saying is the investigation is pending,” Morales told reporters in an ambush interview yesterday.

“You can file a case if all the documentary evidence can show there is probable cause to indict someone. But if the evidence does not suffice, if it calls for further investigation, then we will do that. Otherwise, if there is no point conducting further investigation, then we will dismiss the case,” she said.

Asked if the guilty verdict against Corona felt like a vindication, Morales said, “That’s what my staff thinks, but for me that’s just part of my job.”

“Whether he was convicted or not, I thought I did what was expected of me. I feel good. I feel fulfilled. Now, if I was judged wrongly, I’m sorry, so be it,” she said.

No effect

Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday said in a media forum that it was normal for prosecution to follow impeachment.

“It is possible that he might be acquitted in civil and criminal cases in court but it would not change the findings of the impeachment court,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said Corona should have no problem if he could prove in a regular court that his P80.7-million deposit, for instance, indeed represented a “commingled” fund, which included savings from his family members and money from Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc.

“But if this money could not be explained, or worse, it is found to have been ill-gotten, we have no choice (but to convict him). That’s the law,” the senator said.

Cayetano said Corona lost his case in the Senate because of his interpretation of the FCDA as against the SALN law and the constitutional provision requiring all government officials to state under oath all assets and liabilities.

“Because of his interpretation … the SALN became useless,” the senator said.

“So that did him in. Many of us senators couldn’t see how he could still be effective as Chief Justice.”

Unlike in a regular court of law, Corona was convicted in the impeachment court because of the “mere fact” that he viewed RA 6426 apparently to mean that he did not have to declare his dollar deposits in his SALN, Cayetano said.

He said Corona’s fate after the impeachment trial would depend on the quality of evidence that might be collected against him. “That’s why Lady Justice is blind. Pity, compassion, anger—all of these have no place in the justice system.”

 

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