Sandiganbayan reverses conviction of ex-DOF officials, trader

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Sandiganbayan reverses conviction of ex-DOF officials, trader
The anti-graft court cites a 1993 DOF order as key to its decision to reverse an earlier ruling on the alleged tax credit scam case

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has acquitted 5 former officials of the Department of Finance (DOF) and a businessman earlier convicted of graft charges in connection with the alleged illegal issuance of tax credit certificates (TCCs).

In a 23-page resolution promulgated on January 11,  the Sandiganbayan’s First Division reversed its June 30 decision convicting the 6 of multiple graft charges after the defendants appealed the ruling and presented new evidence that proved crucial to the case.

“The Court reviewed the records and the evidence in these cases, re-assessed them in light of the foregoing arguments of the prosecution and the defense, and found compelling reasons to reconsider, reverse, and set aside the conviction of the accused-movants,” the court said.

Acquitted were DOF-One Stop Shop Inter-Agency Tax Credit and Duty Drawback Center (DOF-OSS Center) deputy executive director Uldarico Andutan; Garment Division reviewer Miriam T. Tasarra; DOF-OSS Center tax specialists Lucila Cueto, Galdys Olaño, and Irene Magbojos; and Kuldip Singh, an executive of JK Apparel Manufacturing Incorporated and United Apparel.

Following the acquittal, the court recalled an order demanding the individuals to pay the goverment P9,699,639 as restitution for injury allegedly done due to the unlawful issuance of TCCs.

Office Order No. 93-13

In its June 30 ruling, the court gave weight to the testimony of the prosecution’s witness that the TCCs were granted to the garment firm even if it only gave photocopies of the requirements. At the time, the court dismissed the claim of the defense that the original documents were returned to the applicants after the issuance of the TCCs.

In their separate motions for reconsideration, the accused invoked good faith in granting the TCCs, and blamed DOF Undersecretary Antonio Belicena  – the principal accused in all the cases – as the final approving authority. They questioned the sufficiency of evidence against them.

Belicena was found to be suffering from dementia due to old age in March 2014, based on a National Center for Mental Health evaluation, and was declared unfit to stand trial.

The appeal of Cueto proved to be crucial to the defendants’ case as she raised the existence of Office Order No. 93-13, which Belicena issued on August 30, 1993. The document, believed not to have been offered in evidence, later turned up as part of Cueto’s exhibits. It was also admitted into the records by a court order dated June 18, 2015, without objection from the prosecution.

Under the order, the OSS-TCC Center was reminded to return original documents to the applicants after the documents have been stamped by the agency, and the duplicates received.

The court held that Belicena’s order supported the defendants’ explanations – that the OSS-Center only received photocopies of the document  because the original had to be returned to the companies applying for TCCs. –

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