Leila de Lima

AMLC witness affidavits show no De Lima link to Bilibid drug trade

Lian Buan

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AMLC witness affidavits show no De Lima link to Bilibid drug trade

FOUR-YEAR TRIAL. Senator Leila De Lima has been on trial for alleged conspiracy to commit illegal drugs.

File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

Financial traces and bank transactions are supposed to be the so-called smoking gun of the prosecution against Senator Leila de Lima

An investigation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) into the Bilibid drug trade has established no direct link to Senator Leila de Lima, according to affidavits of a witness from AMLC.

The witness, Artemio Baculi Jr, is the AMLC financial investigator whom the Department of Justice (DOJ) presented as witness against De Lima.

Baculi’s judicial affidavit and supplemental judicial affidavit – which the DOJ submitted to the court, and were later obtained by Rappler – do not mention De Lima at all.

“If at all, Baculi was not assigned to investigate De Lima’s accounts, the reason she was not mentioned in the testimony,” DOJ Prosecutor General Ben Malcontento told Rappler in a message on Wednesday, December 16.

Financial traces and bank transactions were supposed to be the so-called smoking gun of the prosecution against De Lima, as promised by then-justice secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, but Baculi’s judicial affidavits do not make a direct link to De Lima.

The affidavits discussed in detail how a May 25, 2016, raid in Bilibid led to the confiscation of convict Peter Co’s mobile phones, resulting in tips of bank accounts and deposits.

It was also on May 25, 2016, when Rodrigo Duterte, then president-elect, threatened to investigate his staunchest critic De Lima for alleged involvement in the drug trade.

Baculi’s investigation started late 2016 upon the requests of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) through a letter on October 18, 2016; and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) through a letter on November 21, 2016, to look into Co’s mobile phones.

Baculi’s investigation yielded many names, companies, and bank accounts linked to them, as well as specific details of transactions each amounting by the hundred thousands, but there was no link to De Lima.

“The testimony of witness Baculi prove or tend to prove the drug trading inside the New Bilibid Prison,” Malcontento said, citing the prosecution.

De Lima’s lawyer Rolly Peoro told Rappler on Wednesday that “the contents of the Judicial Affidavit were echoed during the trial.”

Baculi’s testimony during trial was what prompted the DOJ to file a contempt suit against De Lima and her lawyer Boni Tacardon.

In September when Baculi took the stand in a hearing not accessible to media because of quarantine measures, Tacardon told reporters that the AMLC investigator said “no money flowed from the bank accounts subject to his investigation to either De Lima or her co-accused Jose Adrian Dera.”

In its petition for contempt, the DOJ prosecution said Tacardon lied. “It is also not true that the said witnesses found no suspicious transactions between the senator and drug convicts,” said the petition.

Asked for their version of the hearing, the prosecution said it wants to follow the sub judice rule and not discuss merits of the case to the media.

Other AMLC witnesses

Aside from Baculi, the prosecution presented two other witnesses from AMLC, Monico Villar and lawyer Darius Canullas.

In its formal offer of evidence, the prosecution said Villar will prove that there was a P997,000 deposit in the bank account of Jad Dera, De Lima’s co-accused. De Lima had denied knowing any Jad Dera.

“Mr Villar admitted during his cross-examination that there is no clear proof that the account of accused Dera was actually used in illegal activities, and revealed that he has no finding that money was eventually transferred to accused De Lima,” said the De Lima camp in its supplemental motion for bail filed before the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 205.

The prosecution presented Canullas on the investigation into a company called Coco Jewelry, which was supposedly flagged for “illegal activities such as drug trading.”

“Similarly, Atty Canullas testified that accused De Lima is not a subject of his investigation as he focused only on the Coco Jewelry accounts. Canullas disclosed as well that accused De Lima was not a payor in that account and that he did not know the purpose of the deposits in the said account,” said the De Lima camp in the same motion.

The DOJ prosecution has always said it had an AMLC report it will present. Malcontento did not directly answer when asked whether the testimonies of the AMLC witnesses were already the report.

The De Lima team said in its motion for bail that the DOJ’s own witness from PDEA testified that the allegation that the cellphones were owned by Co, and an alleged P900,000 transaction “were fed by the prosecution.”

“Even the search for data entries to implicate accused De Lima to drug trading was also the initiative of the panel of prosecutors,” said De Lima’s motion for bail.

“Thus, the only clarification that was made by the witness testimony is the notion that some members of the prosecution panel are willing to tread, and even cross, the fine line between duty and prosecutorial misconduct in handling this instant case,” said the motion.

What Peter Co said

In charging De Lima, the DOJ junked the complaints against convicts including Co to use them as witnesses.

Information from Co’s confiscated mobile phones were extracted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and “indicate that despite being incarcerated, (he) is actively involved in the illegal drug trade,” according to freeze order records from the Court of Appeals (CA). 

The prosecution presented Co to the court to prove that De Lima knew drug trading was going on in Bilibid, and to bridge the link between the then-justice secretary and Jaybee Sebastian, according to the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence.

Before he died of coronavirus in July, Sebastian had pleaded guilty to one of the 3 charges where he was co-accused with De Lima, and had executed an affidavit, according to lead prosecutor Ramoncito Ocampo.

The De Lima camp said Co’s testimony was hearsay as “all mentions or attributions refer to Jaybee Sebastian,” according to the legal team’s objections to the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence.

According to the prosecution’s story, it was Sebastian who approached convict Hans Anton Tan to collect drug money for De Lima’s senatorial campaign in 2016. It was Tan who approached Co to produce the money. Co’s lack of personal knowledge as far as De Lima’s alleged involvement is concerned makes him a non-credible witness, said the senator’s lawyers.

Two prosecution witnesses, former BuCor officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) intelligence agent Jovencio “Jun” Ablen Jr, claimed to have delivered drug money on two occasions to De Lima’s home in Parañaque.

But in separate hearings in 2019, Ragos was pointed to as the one “involved in extorting and receiving payola from high profile inmates,” by  former CIDG chief and now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong; while Ablen was pointed to by Ragos himself as the one involved in the Bilibid drug trade.

The DOJ has finished presenting evidence in two of De Lima’s 3 charges of conspiracy to commit drug trading. De Lima has been in jail for 3 years and 10 months. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.