Sandiganbayan justice not keen on opening Luy's bank records
MANILA, Philippines – Lawyers of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles may have a hard time establishing before the 3rd division of the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan that the multi-million-peso proceeds illegally sourced from lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) went to the whistleblowers and not to their client.
Justice Samuel Martires on Friday, August 8, expressed in court his apprehension on the request of Napoles' lead counsel Stephen David to open the bank accounts of PDAF scam whistleblower and now state witness Benhur Luy.
"I don't think that we can compel the banks to disclose the accounts, considering that it might violate the bank secrecy law," Martires said during Napoles' bail hearing.
The bank secrecy law upholds the confidentiality of bank customer information. A Supreme Court ruling on the plunder case of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada outlines two exceptions to the protection afforded by the bank secrecy law.
These are when "the examination of bank accounts is upon order of a competent court in cases of bribery or dereliction of duty of public officials" and when "the money deposited or invested is the subject matter of the litigation."
Martires asked David if the accounts that he seeks to be disclosed in court even concern the plunder case of his client Napoles.
"How can we open or look into the bank accounts of Luy, [Marina] Sula, and [Merlina] Suñas if those 3 are now witnesses and not accused?" Martires asked rhetorically.
Luy, Sula, and Suñas are former employees of Napoles who have turned against her by revealing to state authorities her illegal transactions with government.
Now in the custody of government, each of them have testified in writing about Napoles' massive defrauding of government funds by using dummy non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to implement projects contracted by state firms.
For testifying for the state, the 3 are immune from criminal prosecution over the PDAF scam. Largely seen as the scam mastermind, Napoles is charged with plunder and 42 counts of graft before 3 divisions of the Sandiganbayan. She is a co-accused of 3 senators now in jail.
The whistleblowers allege that Napoles used them as dummy presidents of the NGOs, while Napoles' camp insists that it was the whistleblowers who benefitted from the PDAF scam.
To test and ultimately prove their theory, Napoles' lawyers would need the history of transactions in the witnesses' personal bank accounts.
While these accounts may have already been drained and are now frozen for being the subject of a forfeiture case before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 22, the history of transactions will show previous deposits and withdrawals.
Anonymous bank accounts
During the Friday hearing, prosecution witness and Commission on Audit (COA) Assistant Commissioner Susan Garcia explained that the checks issued by state firms to the Napoles-controlled NGOs were transferred to anonymous bank accounts.
David speculates that these are the bank accounts of the witnesses.
In court, Garcia explained that in the course of COA's special audit on the use of PDAF from 2007 to 2009, the only records of fund transfers they were able to access were bank account numbers.
She said she is not aware in which banks and bank branches these account numbers are associated with, much less who owned them.
Banks defend client Luy
The camp of Luy, including lawyers of the banks themselves, earlier assailed before the 1st division of the Sandiganbayan the requested subpoena duces tecum, an order to produce the bank records before court.
Luy is a witness in 3 separate pork barrel scam cases being heard in 3 divisions of the anti-graft court.
Luy, through lawyer Raji Mendoza, filed his opposition to the 1st division order, saying it was a form of harassment against one already burdened to testify for the people.
The Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company likewise argued that the accounts are not the subject matter of the PDAF scam cases.
The Bank of the Philippine Islands, on the other hand, manifested before the court that two of the alleged account numbers Napoles requested disclosed did not even exist.
In the end, Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang advised David to file the request in writing. "You must show the relevance of the requested documents," she told David.
The same request before the Sandiganbayan 1st division has yet to be resolved. – Rappler.com