Court freezes Ongpin’s bank accounts
The freeze order was made upon the request of the Anti-Money Laundering Council

UNDER SUSPICION. Roberto "Bobby" Ongpin faces the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee in November 2011. Photo from Senate website

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals has ordered a temporary freeze on about 100 bank accounts linked to business tycoon Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin, the 9th richest man in the country.

The court ordered 20 banks and financial institutions to freeze the Ongpin-linked accounts, 10 of which are directly under his name, for 20 days, Reuters reported. The freeze order was made at the request of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Citing court documents, the Reuters report said Ongpin obtained preferential loans. He is reportedly out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Rodolfo Ma. Ponferrada, Ongpin’s legal counsel, however said the order issued by the Court of Appeals on Thursday, December is “totally without basis and completely unjustified.”

“Under the applicable rules of procedure, we have 20 days within which to have the temporary order lifted. We will file the appropriate motion on Monday,” Ponferrada said in a statement.

Ponferrada added, the Court of Appeals was misled by the freeze order application, which was done ex parte (without the presence of the other party). The application was also filled with inaccuracies and wrong information, he said.

Target of investigators

Ongpin, 75, is a close friend of the former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, husband of the former president. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was arrested last October on plunder charges.

Former trade minister under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Ongpin was cited by Forbes Magazine as the country’s 9th richest man with a net worth of US$1.5 billion. A Harvard Business School graduate, he is also the largest single investor in San Miguel Corp, through his Top Frontier Investment Holdings. The investment company holds a 37% share.

Ongpin has increasingly been seen as a target by investigators. Earlier this week, the Office of the Ombudsman dismissed 13 officials of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for granting loans to Ongpin’s Delta Ventures Inc in 2009.

The loan was used to acquire a stake in the Manuel V Pangilinan-led Philex Mining Corp. Ongpin sold his shares weeks later for a “65% gain to Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co Ltd,” Reuters said.

The Senate is investigating allegations that Ongpin obtained preferential loans of P660 million from the DBP while Arroyo was president.

No deal

Ponferrada said, that then and now, DBP had no deal with Pangilinan. “The negotiations were purely between Mr. Ongpin and Mr. Pangilinan.” There was no financial injury to either DBP or the government, and therefore no reason to freeze Ongpin’s accounts, Ponferrada added.

Appearing before the Senate earlier this year, Ongpin said Mike Arroyo was a friend even before his wife became president. “But friendship does not mean I was his crony,” Ongpin said.

Ponferrada pointed out that even during the Senate investigations held last year, no evidence was found to recommend the filing of criminal charges against his client. –

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