MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into allegations made by the Czech ambassador that a US$30-million extortion attempt marred the bidding for new Metro Rail Transit (MRT) coaches.
“As always, the thrust is to ascertain the facts and the truth and determine accountability, if warranted,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a text message on Monday, July 29.
De Lima said the assignment was given by the President “two to three weeks ago” and the NBI immediately started its investigation discreetly.
Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar claimed that Czech company Inekon had been blacklisted by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) from the MRT-3 bidding after the company refused to give a $30-million bribe.
Malacañang, however, began to express doubts on the claims being made by the ambassador. On July 20, presidetial spokesman Edwin Lacierda pointed out how Rychtar’s version of the story had been changing, specifically on who tried to extort from Inekon.
The ambassador originally said it was presidential sister Maria Elena “Ballsy” Cruz and her husband Eldon who asked for the $30 million from Inekon
Later, he said it was 3 DOTC undersecretaries – Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, and Catherine Gonzales – and Transportation Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano who tried to extort from the Czech firm.
Yet much later, the envoy said it was MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III and some private individuals who tried to extort from Inekon.
Vitangcol has gone on leave to give way to an investigation, but has submitted documents to clear his name.
DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya has named Light Rail Transit Authority chief Honorito Chaneco as OIC of MRT.
Abaya has denied blacklisting Inekon from bidding. He said Inekon bought bidding documents, and the Czech ambassador had met with him several times, but the firm ended up not submitting bid documents.
The P3.769-billion project involves the supply of 48 light rail vehicles (LRVs) to decongest the MRT-3, which carries 600,000 passengers a day. Its load limit is only 350,000 daily.
The existing 73 LRVs are Czech-made. The bidding for the 48 is the first phase of plans to add 70 coaches.
The government considered two options — secondhand cars from Spain or brand new from Czech Republic. The plan for the secondhand coaches was scrapped afer the agency considered cost issues and timing of delivery. – Rappler.com