MANILA, Philippines – Curb the powers of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and stop it from looking into bank accounts without notifying parties under probe.
This is what the law firm representing Vice President Jejomar Binay asked the Supreme Court in its 44-page petition filed last March 11.
The petition filed by the Subido Pagente Certeza Mendoza and Binay (SPCMB) Law Offices was in relation to a reported court order issued by the appellate court allowing a unilateral examination by the AMLC of select accounts of the vice president, his wife Elenita, his daughter Abigail, his alleged bagman Gerry Limlingan, his son and embattled Makati mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, and the SPCMB law firm itself. Congresswoman Mar-len Abigail Binay, the vice president’s daughter, is a partner in the law firm.
In its petition, the law firm said the inquiry should not cover their bank accounts, as the firm is not included in any of the complaints against the Binays.
A plunder complaint was earlier filed against the former Makati mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay before the Ombudsman over an alleged overpriced Makati parking building, but only the graft, falsification, violation of procurement law, and other administrative complaints against his son in relation to the building have been approved for preliminary investigation so far.
The elder Binay also faces another plunder complaint before the Ombudsman over the alleged overpriced P1.33 billion Makati Science High School building. His wife Elenita, on the other hand, faces graft cases before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan for the purchase of allegedly overpriced hospital beds and supplies during her term as Makati mayor.
Plunder, graft and corrupt practices are predicate crimes of money laundering, which allows the AMLC as the government’s financial intelligence unit to probe financial instruments related to the commission of these crimes.
The law firm also said that the “unlawful examination” of its bank accounts was a mere “fishing expedition” not contemplated under the Anti-Money Laundering Act or AMLA.
In arguing for the unconstitutionality of the AMLC’s power to unilaterally examine bank accounts, the SPCMB said it is “clearly unconstitutional for being violative of a person’s right to due process and right to privacy.”
Section 11 of the AMLA allows the AMLC to petition the Court of Appeals (CA) for a scrutiny of bank accounts believed to be linked to illegal activities. If there is probable cause to believe the accounts are related to some of the predicate crimes of money laundering, the CA may grant unilateral powers to the AMLC to check the movement of money and account history of the bank accounts suspected to be repositories of dirty money.
With the court order, banks can waive their confidentiality agreement with their clients without having to notify them. This power was not enshrined in the originally passed AMLA but added in the approved amendments in 2013.
Congresswoman Binay was part of Congress when the amendment – now questioned before the SC – was enacted.
President Benigno Aquino III sees these amendments as key to the country’s improved efforts to curb money laundering, which deprives the economy of funds that could have been used to combat poverty and boost growth. (READ: PH anti-money laundering ranking outdated – Palace)
Violation of privacy and due process?
In its petition, the SPCMB said that without any notice, “the aggrieved party is being unconstitutionally deprived of his right to due process as well as his right to take the appropriate legal course of action necessary to protect his interests.”
It added that the determination of probable cause, the standard needed for a court order, requires the courts to hear all parties concerned. This means that parties being probed should be notified and given a chance to be heard.
Without this, the aggrieved party is “deprived of the right and opportunity to question the propriety of the government’s intrusion into his private affairs.”
The petitioning law firm regarded the CA order as an “arbitrary, whimsical, and capricious act,” adding that the court likewise denied the firm’s request to be furnished with documents in relation to the AMLC probe.
“There is nothing in the Anti-Money Laundering Act that allows or justifies the withholding of information and/or any court records or proceedings pertaining to an examination of a bank account, especially if the court has already granted the authority to conduct the examination,” it said.
The firm asked for a temporary restraining order from the SC to stop the AMLC from examining its accounts while it decides on the constitutionality of a unilateral bank inquiry. – Rappler.com
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