Anti-graft court clears Nani Perez of all charges

MANILA, Philippines – He’s off the hook.

In a 21-page decision, the 5th Division of the Sandiganbayan dismissed the last of 4 criminal charges filed against former justice secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez in 2008. This was in relation to charges he extorted US$2 million from former Manila Representative Mark Jimenez in February 2001.

The $2-million bribe was reportedly given to Perez in exchange for the approval of a controversial $470-million IMPSA power plant deal. The anomalous contract, originally signed by former president Joseph Estrada, was being reviewed by the newly-installed Arroyo government.

Perez, as justice secretary at the time, had the power to approve or reject the deal. As a result, Perez was referred to as “The Two-Million-Dollar Man.”

The anti-graft court junked the falsification of public documents charge against Perez as it ruled that the prosecution presented insufficient evidence to support any of its allegations.

Perez was accused of falsifying his 2001 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) by failing to declare $1.7 million in deposits and two of his wife’s bank accounts at EFG Private Bank SA.

The Sandiganbayan ruled that all testimonial and documentary evidence presented against Perez was mere hearsay. Jimenez was not presented in court to be cross-examined, the court said. In addition, the bank documents bore no weight because bank executives or diplomatic officers who had firsthand knowledge about them were not called to testify about them.

“Indeed, basic is the rule that oral or documentary evidence is hearsay if its probative value is based not on the personal knowledge of the witness but on the knowledge of some other person not on the witness stand,” the court said.

It also disregarded records related to the bank account of businessman Ernest Escaler in Hong Kong and papers pertaining to bank accounts of Perez’s wife Rosario and brother-in-law Ramon Arceo that were turned over by the Swiss government.

Furthermore, the Sandiganbayan pointed out that the prosecution failed to present witnesses who they earlier named as being able to provide competent testimonies. These included: HK-Special Administrative Region deputy principal government counsel Wayne Patrick Walsh, Hong Kong Consul Ma. Theresa Dizon Vega, and EFG Private Bank legal counsel Vladimir Stembereger, among others.

Associate Justice and division chairman Roland B. Jurado penned the decision which Associate Justices Alexander G. Gesmundo and Alex L. Quiroz concurred in.

Earlier charges

The first two charges of extortion and graft against Perez, his wife, brother-in-law, and Escaler were dismissed on November 25, 2008 by the graft court's First and Second Divisions, respectively.

The First Division cited lack of evidence to support allegations against them, while the Second Division ruled that the Ombudsman violated the defendants' right to speedy disposition of their cases as investigations took almost 5 years.

On June 22, 2011 the Third Division also dismissed a case against Perez that stemmed from his supposed violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Government Officials and Employees. The court said the case was already covered by another pending case that had a heavier penalty in the event of a conviction.

All the charges stemmed from Jimenez's allegation that Perez forced him to cough up over $2 million in 2001 in exchange for being excluded from a plunder charge filed against then president Joseph Estrada in April 2001. 

Jimenez later executed an affidavit of desistance, claiming he was no longer interested in pursuing his complaint but then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez went ahead and filed the case. Gutierrez was a former subordinate of Perez at the justice department.

The extortion scandal involving Perez first broke out in November 2002 when then Bulacan Representative Wilfrido Villarama delivered a privilege speech condemning an alleged bribery by a high-ranking official dubbed "Two Million Dollar Man." – Rappler.com