Levistes deny links to illegal drug ops in family ranch

MANILA, Philippines – Two members of the Leviste clan, a known political family in Batangas, have filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) sworn statements claiming no knowledge nor involvement in the illegal drug operations at their family ranch. 

Batangas Vice Governor Jose Antonio "Mark" Leviste II and his uncle Conrad Leviste filed their affidavits right before the DOJ-set deadline of Wednesday, January 15.

The two maintained that the property in Lipa City – where 84 kilograms (185 pounds) of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu were seized by state operatives – is owned by the Running Spring Real Estate Incorporated. 

Conrad is the twin brother of former Batangas Governor and ex-convict Antonio Leviste. The paroled Antonio earlier also denied involvement in illegal drug activity.

Antonio Leviste was granted parole in December 2013, after serving a prison term for killing his trusted employee Rafael de las Alas in 2007. His status as a parolee is under review by President Benigno Aquino III.

Ties to the ranch

While Antonio is not listed as one of the incorporaters of the Running Spring Real Estate Incorporated, his son Mark disclosed in his affidavit that the real estate company is family-owned.

Mark, however, said he was a "nominal stockholder."

The vice governor said he has "not in any way participated in the operations of Running Spring" since he took an elective post, as vice governor, in 2007 – a set-up his family is aware of.

"I earlier informed my family of my intent not to be involved and deliberately chose to concentrate on my duties as a government employee," he said. 

Leased to 'Jorge Torres'

Conrad, on the other hand, said he is the current president of the LBJ Development Corporation. LBJ has a standing management agreement with Running Spring.

The management agreement allowed LBJ to lease the property to a certain Jorge/George Torres.

State police earlier said that alleged Mexican drug cartel members – a Filipino-American named Gary Torres and two Mexicans known as "Jaime" and "Joey" – were being sought in connection with the seized drugs.

Conrad, however, said that his administrator Benedicto "Benny" Orense has been in charge of actual operations of the land, including contracts of lease.

No annual shareholder's meeting have been conducted, he added, since majority of the directors and 95% of the shareholders of LBJ have passed away. 

Illegal drug operatives raided tha ranch on Christmas Day of 2013, arresting two Filipinos and one Filipino-Chinese. (READ: PH arrests 3 linked to Mexico drug cartel)

Intelligence reports gathered by authorities link the illegal drug activity in the Batangas property to one of the world's most notorious drug traficking syndicates, the Sinaloa drug cartel. 

The joint elements of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Task Operations Force failed to arrest the Fil-Am Gary Torres and Mexicans Jaime and Joey during the raid, as the 3 were not in the vicinity.

The Philippines has been tagged as one of the key transit points in the global illegal drugs trade. – Rappler.com