Monday, January 08, 2007

Political Gambit: Former Justice Secretary Nani Perez Charged For $2-M Impsa Bribe

Photo: Newsbreak

Why only now four months before midterm elections? There’s no surprise in the latest Ombudsman move or Moro-Moro. I don’t think ex-DOJ chief Nani Perez is ready to spill the beans. It may take years before final judgment of the bribery and extortion case. It’s a calculated political gambit or to gain pogi points for the discredited Arroyo administration. The issue next year's poll is Gloria Arroyo and her inept government. It appears that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is trying to boost her big boss' credibility in fighting graft and corruption. The midterm elections will be a referendum on usurper Gloria Arroyo and on her tyrant policy. An opposition controlled-Congress may end Gloria’s Enchanted Kingdom. How about Joc-Joc Bolante’s P728 M fertilizer scam? This case is gathering dust at Office of Ombudsman. Are they willing to sacrifice the bagman Bolante for pogi points?

Perez charged for $2-M Impsa bribe

By Dona Policar and Gerry Baldo

Daily Tribune 01/09/2007

He was the Secretary of Justice then, but he was found to have extorted some $2 million from a businessman, said to be part of the bribe money offered by the Argentine power firm Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona Sociedad Anonima (Impsa), in exchange for a sovereign guarantee contract for the power producer just two days after Gloria Arroyo and her Justice secretary assumed office following the Edsa II coup d’etat.

President Arroyo’s first Justice chief, Hernando “Nani” Perez, has finally been charged with extortion, graft and corruption and falsification of public documents by the Office of the Ombudsman, along with his wife, Rosario, his brother-in-law Ramon Arceo and Ernest Escaler, the private banker at Coutts Bank in Hong Kong,

who is also a known fund-raiser for Mrs. Arroyo’s many questionable foundations.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez approved the filing of the charges against Perez et al, but spared him the charges of plunder, despite the fact that the amount involved is over the plunder threshold of P50 million.

Reliable sources told the Tribune yesterday that this was purposely done to ensure that Perez, who had insisted on charging deposed President Joseph Estrada with plunder, would have the opportunity to post bail.

The charges against Perez stemmed from the allegations leveled against him by then Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez, a.k.a. Mario Crespo, who accused the then Justice secretary of having extorted $2 million from him, in exchange for not including him in the plunder case against Estrada, or testifying against him. It was also said that the $2 million from Jimenez formed part of the Impsa bribe, with the bulk of it going to the top officials in the new Arroyo government, as their “commission” for the immediate approval of the Impsa deal.

The Ombudsman’s investigators found that the bank documents showed the illegal acts of the then Cabinet official.

The 66-page ruling was released only yesterday although it was promulgated on Friday last week. The cases are scheduled to be filed this week at the Sandiganbayan against Perez, his wife, Rosario, his brother-in-law Ramon Arceo and business associate Ernest Escaler.

The Swiss authorities over two years ago, sought the assistance of the Arroyo government in getting certain bank documents for them to be able to file a case of money laundering against Perez and his wife, who had opened an account in the Swiss bank while depositing the $2 million. Both Malacañang, along with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Senate, then dominated by Arroyo allies, rejected the Swiss Government’s request. The Ombudsman, even with all the documents to prove the plunder and graft committed by Perez, sat on the case for years.

Government probers, in charging Perez et al, concluded that evidence of the illegal acts committed by the four accused, cannot merely be denied by them.

“The denial of Perez cannot overcome the positive assertion of Jimenez, more so that the charges were substantiated with convincing evidence,” the prosecutors said, referring to the $2million Jimenez deposited in the Coutts Bank in Hong Kong in February 2001.

“This Office finds that Perez, in conspiracy with Escaler, Arceo and Rosario Perez, took advantage of his position as the DoJ Secretary by demanding Jimenez to deliver the $2 million in connection with the execution of affidavits.”

Jimenez accused Perez of extortion. He claimed Perez demanded from him the money so he (Perez) would stop coercing Jimenez into executing affidavits against the detained leader, as well as the other officials of former President Joseph Estrada, whom the congressman referred to as “targets” of Perez.

It will also be recalled that the Tribune published a notarized affidavit from a petitioner in a different case where it said that Perez was also known to have extorted money from several other individuals who had become “witnesses” for the prosecution against Estrada, and had threatened to charge them with plunder if they did not provide the grease money and testify against the deposed leader.

During a privilege speech, then congressman Jimenez claimed that the former Justice secretary extorted money from him during a meeting two days after Mrs. Arroyo assumed the presidency in January 2001.

That meeting was followed by another one on Feb. 13 of the same year where the act of extortion was alleged, a meeting which was not specifically denied by Perez

It will be recalled that shortly after that meeting, and when the money from Jimenez’ Cayman’s bank account was deposited in Escaler’s account for Perez, he flew to Hong Kong, apparently to check on the deposit and to have this transferred to another account.

Jimenez, who was also convicted of tax evasion cases in the United States, claimed to have deposited $2million in a numbered account of Escaler at the Coutts Bank in Hong Kong on Feb. 13, 2001.

Records showed that Jimenez deposited $2 million in beneficiary account HO133706 of Coutts Bank in Hong Kong, from Trade and Commerce Bank, Cayman Islands through the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

Bank documents provided by both Swiss and Hong Kong authorities, according to the probers, have clearly established the transfer of funds from Escaler’s HK Coutts Bank account to Rosario’s and Arceo’s Swiss accounts.

Escaler, whom Perez had reportedly conspired with, being the initial transferee of the Jimenez fund, offered “no explanation to show that the transfer to his account was the outcome of a legitimate transaction with Jimenez.”

The Ombudsman also said that “no specific denial was made that Jimenez, in accordance with the instructions of Escaler, transmitted the $2 million to the account, and subsequently, Escaler transmitted the $1.7 million to Rosario and the $250,000 to Arceo through a check or bank draft.”

“If indeed Rosario and Arceo had no knowledge of, nor participated in the opening of the supposed escrow accounts, then how could they have effectively served as trustees for the amount supposedly held in escrow? Perez and Escaler imply that only they were privy to the MOU as well as the escrow agreement. This renders their defense suspect,” it added.

The Ombudsman took note of the accused initial declaration that the money deposited constituted the inheritance of Rosario and Arceo. The Perezes said in their Joint Counter-Affidavit that the funds were proceeds of the same, through a Memorandum of Understanding, of their Batangas property Malvarosa Ventures Inc. to Escaler, which in fact was not notarized.

This, according to the Ombudsman was a “mere private instrument” that did not prove the sale of Malvarosa.

“Indeed, it is curious that as vendee, Escaler would allow the consideration for the supposed sale to be deposited in an account held by close relations of the vendor, Perez, and over which the vendor himself had control as attorney-in-fact,” the resolution said.

“This office finds that Perez, in conspiracy with Escaler, Arceo and Rosario Perez took advantage of his position as the DoJ Secretary by demanding Jimenez to deliver that $2 million,” the report said.

Perez, a former Batangas congressman, is closely identified with Mrs. Arroyo, who has been known to protect him from all these charges, which surfaced early during her first stint at the presidency.

Perez, then Justice secretary, also barred immigration, which was under his supervision, from releasing any documents pertaining to his flight to Hong Kong, in what could be termed as an obstruction of justice.

Jimenez filed a complaint-affidavit before the Ombudsman on Dec. 23, 2002 after his privilege speech and described how the $2-million payoff was made to the former justice secretary. He also provided the then Ombudsman, Simeon Marcelo, the copies of the bank documents and checks from his Cayman’s bank, as well as the New York bank routing.

Jimenez was known to have been the point man in the Philippines for Impsa. He tried pushing the approval of the sovereign guarantee from Estrada, bribing him with $14 million. Estrada rejected it.

In a Senate inquiry where the former President was called upon to testify to the Impsa bribery which included the highest official in the land, Estrada said Jimenez offered him $14 million in bribe money in exchange for a sovereign guarantee for the Impsa power plant. Estrada said he rejected the bribe, which was why Impsa was unable to get the sovereign guarantee. But a few days after the Edsa revolt, Jimenez and the Impsa officials were in Malacañang, forging the deal with the new government officials.

The sovereign guarantee was quickly granted, even as Malacañang, through the prosecution in the plunder case, insists it was Estrada who had signed the Impsa sovereign guarantee.

After Mrs. Arroyo and Perez signed the contract, Jimenez claimed he deposited $2 million to the Coutts Bank in the Hong Kong account of Escaler, said to be a facilitator for money laundering activities.

Escaler made no denial.

“No specific denial was made that Jimenez, in accordance with the instructions of Escaler, did transmit the $2-million to the account and subsequently, Escaler transmitted the $1.7-million to Arceo-Rosario and the $250,000 to Arceo through a cheque or bank draft. Perez also did not specifically deny the accusations in the complaint pertaining to the meeting in Feb. 13 where the act of extortion was alleged,” the panel said.

Perez isn’t the only one responsible for the controversial IMPSA deal
Timeline of extortion accusations against ex-DoJ chief
Closing in On Nani

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