Sandiganbayan clears former Petron execs in tax refund scam
MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan dismissed all charges against former top executives of Petron Corporation who previously faced multiple counts of graft for the transfer of millions of pesos worth of tax credit certificates (TCCs) to the oil firm.
A TCC is a company's claim for tax credits, granted either to companies that manufacture exports or companies with tax refunds. The TCC can be used in lieu of paying taxes.
But during the 1990s, investigations uncovered fraud in companies illegally acquiring TCCs. At the center of the scandal was the Department of Finance (DOF), particularly officials from its One-Stop Shop Inter Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center who were reported to have conspired with companies to illegally grant or transfer TCCs.
Petron officials were implicated when state investigators alleged that former finance undersecretary Antonio Belicena and former deputy director Uldarico Andutan recommended and approved the transfer of TCCs from a company called Diamond Knitting Industries to Petron without legal basis and documentation. The TCCs in question were transferred from 1994 to 1998.
But in two separate resolutions, the anti-graft court dropped all charges by virtue of a legal principle called re judicata which means a case already resolved shall not be litigated again.
The Sandiganbayan dismissed 48 graft charges against former Petron vice president and general manager Celso Legarda for the transfer of P700.742 million worth of TCCs. Also dismissed were 18 graft charges against former Petron president Monico Jacob, former VP for refinery Apolinario Reyes, and former senior marketing executive Rafael Diaz Jr involving P86.055 million worth of TCCs.
The case against former Petron official Reynaldo Campos was also dropped, because he had already died in 2013.
The charges against Belicena and Andutan remain active.
The Sandiganbayan ruled in favor of Petron, which argued that the Supreme Court (SC), in 2010, ordered the dismissal of charges over the same issue against executives of Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation.
The SC said then that Pilipinas Shell was a "transferee in good faith" and that the oil firm was not party to the fraudulent issuances and transfers.
The High Court also ruled then that the DOF's One-Stop Shop will be the one accountable if TCCs are found to be questionable.
In its ruling favoring Petron, the anti-graft court noted that the SC's pronouncements in the Shell case apply to Petron.
"The Court believes that the jurisprudence or case law laid down by the Supreme Court in Cruz applies to these cases. Petron, represented by the accused-movants, was found not to be a party to the fraudulent issuance and assignment of the TCCs, and was therefore considered as a transferee in good faith and for value," the court said.
While cases against Belicena and Andutan in connection with the Petron issue remain active, some of their cases involving different companies have already been dismissed. – Lian Buan / Rappler.com