MANILA, Philippines – Family members of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles and other suspects in the scam will be unable to touch select assets in their name until further notice.
This, after the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 22 issued an asset preservation order (APO) that effectively froze properties suspected to have been acquired using money from the illegal siphoning of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
In a 33-page order dated March 25 but released Thursday, April 3, Executive Judge Mariano dela Cruz Jr said there is reasonable cause to believe that the subject properties are “related to unlawful activities.”
Judge Dela Cruz issued on February 26 a similar order that was effective only for 20 days. (READ: Napoles family can’t touch assets – court)
“Procedurally, since the Court has already issued a Provisional Asset Preservation Order (PAPO), the burden of evidence is shifted to respondent to show to the Court why the PAPO should be lifted or modified or why an APO should not be issued,” the new order read.
The summary hearing on the application of the APO as petitioned by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) through the Office of the Solicitor General was heard by the court on March 7.
Napoles’ defense that the assets that AMLC outlined in the forfeiture case were acquired through legitimate means “should be ventilated in a full-blown trial where the contending parties will fully present their respective evidence,” the court said.
Court denies Luy’s appeal indefinitely
In issuing the APO, the court also denied in the meantime Benhur Luy’s appeal to be exempted from the assets freeze. Luy, a relative and former longtime employee of Napoles, is the government’s principal witness against her.
Luy cited a Supreme Court ruling that tags as “criminal” property forfeiture proceedings, invoking his immunity from criminal prosecution as a state witness. (READ: Benhur Luy: Exempt me from assets freeze)
Lawyer Raji Mendoza, Luy’s legal counsel, told Rappler they “respect” the March 25 order but hinted at filing “the necessary pleadings in court to assail the APO.”
“We remain firm in our position that the assets of our clients are acquired legally and not a product of the PDAF scam. Furthermore, we believe that our client is entitled to enjoy the rights and benefits under the witness protection program,” he said.
The PDAF scam, an elaborate ploy to divert lawmakers’ PDAF to bogus projects by fake non-governmental organizations, was allegedly masterminded by Napoles.
Napoles’ NGOs, whose select assets are also covered by the APO, served on paper as project implementors of the PDAF-funded projects.
The sham was exposed by Luy, who was rescued by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in March 2013. He was allegedly illegally detained by his two cousins, Napoles, and her brother Reynald Lim. (READ: Benhur Luy was never detained, court told) – Rappler.com