POSTSCRIPT / April 17, 2008 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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RP justice system also on trial in Nani’s case

FINALLY: For a while there, we thought former Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez had gotten off the hook in connection with his allegedly extorting $2 million in 2001 from then Manila congressman Mark Jimenez and laundering the money in a foreign bank.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has ordered the filing of criminal charges against Perez, 68, his wife Rosario, brother-in-law Ramon Arceo; and business associate Ernesto Escaler.

Gutierrez, btw, was justice undersecretary of Perez in 2001 when the alleged extortion happened.

Aside from extortion, Perez has been charged with allegedly violating the anti-graft law. In a 24-page order, Gutierrez denied for lack of merit several motions filed by the former justice secretary.

The cases will go to the Sandiganbayan graft court, putting on trial not only Perez — a “big fish” by local political standards — but also the Philippine justice system.

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PAPER TRAIL: It might be more difficult than usual to fix the case because foreign agencies from Hong Kong, Switzerland and the United States have gotten into the high-profile case.

In fact, Manila authorities would have been left with a potentially weak case against Perez — reputed to have special influence over President Arroyo — were it not for the involvement of foreign agencies in the investigation.

Swiss authorities who have traced the paper and electronic trail of the $2 million have notified the Philippine government that the funds in question had been frozen and that the records are intact.

Although the money has been reportedly deposited in the name of Mrs. Perez and Arceo, sources said the duo had executed a power of attorney in favor of the former justice secretary, suspected to be the beneficial owner.

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EXPOSÉ: The bombshell of a case exploded on Nov. 22, 2002, when Bulacan congressman Willy Buyson Villarama said in a luncheon speech before a business group at the Manila Peninsula that Perez was the official who had extorted the $2 million.

Jimenez, then being sought to be extradited to the US, had kept Perez’s identify to himself. But after Villarama’s expose, he confirmed that it was indeed the Batangas politician who took the $2 million.

Meantime, the justice secretary was rushing Jimenez’s extradition. When his extradition was blocked by a temporary restraining order by a regional trial court, Perez got a Supreme Court ruling that Jimenez must be sent out immediately.

Jimenez was then taken by US agents on a rough flight to Florida. They took a circuitous route, stopping over in mid-Pacific, that ensured his missing his Friday bail hearing and his staying in jail over the weekend.

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THEORIES: There are different theories about the $2 million allegedly demanded by Perez.

The opposition has alleged that the money was part of a kickback for the Arroyo administration’s swift awarding of the $470-million contract to the Argentine company Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (IMPSA). 

The contract was for the rehabilitation of the Caliraya-Botocan-Kalayaan hydropower plant in Laguna.

Just four days into the newly installed Arroyo administration, Perez wrote the crucial legal opinion that paved the way for the contract’s approval.

But Jimenez said the money was in exchange for Perez’s stopping to harass and force him to sign documents implicating various persons, including big businessmen, in criminal cases filed against former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.

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FAX DETAILS: The $2 million was reportedly coursed through a Hong Kong bank account of Escaler, who reportedly transferred part of it to another account under the name of Perez’s brother-in-law Ramon Arceo.

The Hong Kong police have cited information that the money was transferred to Escaler’s account in two tranches, the first in February 2001 and the second three months later, and that part of the money ($250,000) was issued as a bank draft payable to Arceo.

Earlier, Escaler reportedly faxed instructions to the residence of Jimenez giving the name of Coutts Bank in Hong Kong and the amount to be deposited there. The fax, by default, indicated the phone number used by Escaler, thus linking him to the fax.

Villarama earlier identified Account No. HO 133706 as the account in Coutts Bank that received the $2 million.

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‘I ACCUSE’: In a privilege speech after the Villarama expose at the Pen, Jimenez confirmed that it was Perez who extorted $2 million from him after a series of incidents at his home in January and February in 2001.

He said that on Feb. 23, 2001, he finally gave in to the pressure and wired the money to the Coutts Bank using the account details faxed to him by Escaler, who he claimed was fronting for Perez.

“I accuse, I accuse, I accuse Secretary Hernando Perez of destroying my family, the spirit, dignity and integrity of my family which is (worth) more than a billion dollars,” Jimenez said in his emotional speech that disrupted plenary deliberations of the 2003 national budget.

“I’m confirming that he is an extortionist,” he said, while his wife Carol and son Marcel Crespo sat in the gallery listening to his speech titled “The MJ Odyssey: Why Nani Perez wants to eliminate me.”

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MJ COOL?: One question is if Jimenez is still interested in pursuing the case. Last time we read about his visiting the justice department, he was quoted as having lost interest, in fact executing an affidavit of desistance.

But whether he desists or not, the case has been imbued with a legal life of its own.

In fact, there could also be related cases, such as money laundering, depending on how deep international monitoring agencies will pursue various angles. The necessary paperwork has been compiled.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 17, 2008)

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