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MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) erred in filing the tax evasion case against Jeane Napoles, daughter of alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Napoles, their lawyer said Wednesday, May 6.
Lawyer Lanee Cui-David explained that the expenditure method employed by the DOJ in approving the indictment of the younger Napoles was unfair to the 24-year-old accused, as properties in her name do not necessarily equate to income gained.
She said the use of the expenditure method – looking at Napoles' property purchases relative to her income – in coming up with her tax deficiencies should not apply to a student who had no income to begin with.
This was the argument of Napoles' camp in a pending motion before the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA), which they invoked in asking for the lifting of a previous bench warrant against her.
Napoles' parents had said in a joint affidavit that they are de facto owners of the properties in question, including the luxurious apartment in Los Angeles, California, worth P54.73 million (about $1.2 million). (READ: Napoles couple on tax evasion: Blame us, not Jeane)
The young Napoles is charged with two counts of attempt to evade tax and two counts of failure to file an income tax return for over P17.88 million (about $407,194) in unpaid taxes based on her ownership on paper of the California property and her part ownership of two farm lots in Pangasinan worth P1.49 million (about $35,000).
Jeane Napoles became controversial after being the subject of public scrutiny for her lavish lifestyle, with prevailing sentiment that the money which allowed her to sustain such a standard of living was ill-gotten.
She returned to the Philippines to face her cases and is on the lookout list of the Bureau of Immigration.
Her mother Janet Lim Napoles is accused of masterminding a multi-million-peso scheme where she allegedly gave lawmakers kickbacks in exchange for allowing their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to be channeled to foundations, many of them fake, she controlled.
The Napoles matriarch faces 5 plunder cases before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, the most among those accused over the scam thus far.
Bench warrant lifted
The CTA on Wednesday lifted the bench warrant it issued against Napoles for failing to appear during her arraignment last April 29.
Due to her absence during the April 29 arraignment, the court that same day ordered her arrest and cancelled her bail bond that allowed her provisional liberty despite the initial warrant issued against her.
Having personally appeared on Wednesday before the CTA and with her camp explaining the reason behind her previous absence, the court lifted the bench warrant issued on April 29.
Her camp explained to the CTA justices that there were pending motions in relation to her cases, which made them believe the arraignment would be suspended.
"Nag-worry din siya dito sa issuance of bench warrant... [pero] kaya siya umuwi hindi para magtago (She also worried about the issuance of the bench warrant... [but] she returned to the Philippines not to hide)," said David in a phone interview, stressing that her client will stay to face her cases.
Among the pending motions yet to be resolved by the CTA is Napoles' appeal of the court's denial of her motion for judicial determination of probable cause. She also requested by virtue of the appeal to cancel the April 29 arraignment. A motion for consolidation of her cases was also filed by the prosecution, David said.
Before the Department of Justice, Napoles also filed a petition for review to have her indictment reversed.
The Napoles camp argued that proceeding with her cases before the CTA would prejudice the other pending legal incidents, including a separate ongoing tax liability assessment by the BIR central office.
David questioned how the DOJ could argue Napoles' liability when the BIR itself is still working on the civil aspect of her case.
A P17-million tax evasion case – instead of a P32-million tax case as indicated in the original BIR complaint – was filed before the CTA based on Jeane's "basic tax liability."
Jeane's mother Janet Napoles had wished it was just her who was indicted for tax evasion – and not her daughter Jeane – over the properties she had paid for anyway.
The matriarch Napoles is known as the pork barrel queen for siphoning off millions in discretionary funds meant for lawmakers' pet projects, now declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The projects were mostly development and livelihood assistance projects meant to benefit Filipinos in poor rural areas.