MANILA, Philippines - Lawyers of suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles want more of state witness Benhur Luy's properties and bank accounts disclosed in court.
In 4 separate requests before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan 5th division filed Monday afternoon, August 11, Napoles' camp asked for the disclosure in court of Luy's bank accounts, travel records, registered vehicles, and real properties.
Napoles' lawyer Stephen David explained that these records are important to prove that it was Luy and the state witnesses – not his client – who benefitted from a web of corruption involving the alleged misuse of lawmakers' Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), or pork barrel.
But Department of Justice (DOJ) Undersecretary JJ Justiniano regards the request as irrelevant to the cases involving the reported multi-million-peso diversion of PDAF to ghost projects of dubious non-governmental organizations controlled by Napoles.
In a text message to Rappler, he said the tactic of going after Luy "does not absolve Napoles of liability."
Proving that Luy gained from the PDAF scam would not necessarily mean Napoles did not mastermind the scheme defrauding the government in millions of funds meant for community development pet projects of lawmakers, he explained.
The ill-acquired assets of Luy from the PDAF scam are already the subject of a forfeiture case before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 22. He will be answerable to any civil liability imposed by the Manila court arising from illegally sourcing his wealth from the scam.
Sandiganbayan Justice Samuel Martires of the 3rd division already expressed concern about granting David's request for Luy's bank records, saying it violates the bank secrecy law. (READ: Sandiganbayan justice not keen on opening Luy's bank accounts)
He asked if these bank accounts are even the subject of litigation before the Sandiganbayan.
Lawyer Dennis Manalo, legal counsel for state witness Ruby Tuason, likewise said the examination of the state witnesses' accounts can be done by the prosecution team on its own.
He said the examination is only for the purpose of establishing the money trail or tracking where the PDAF proceeds went but not for criminal prosecution.
The state witnesses are immune from criminal prosecution over the PDAF scam for testifying in behalf of the state. Their civil cases for ill-gotten wealth are still pending.
Luy's lawyer Raji Mendoza however argued that his client's status as a state witness exempts him even from the forfeiture case pending in a Manila court, as well as the court-issued freeze orders.
Mendoza said that forfeiture proceedings are "penal" in nature, citing a Supreme Court jurisprudence that tagged as "criminal" property forfeiture proceedings. (READ: Benhur Luy: Exempt me from assets freeze)
Manalo shares a similar view. While the property forfeiture case may be civil in nature, he said it "arises from a criminal activity." – Rappler.com