DOTC clears execs in $30-M extort try

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 01 2014 08:41 AM | Updated as of Mar 01 2014 04:41 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has cleared its officials linked to the alleged $30-million extortion attempt on a Czech company.

The firm, Inekon Group, was interested in supplying new coaches for Metro Rail Transit (MRT), the rail line along EDSA.

In a letter to Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on good government and public accountability, Jaime Fortunato Caringal, DOTC assistant secretary for legal affairs, said the department “conducted its own inquiry covering the administrative aspect of the (extortion) allegation.”

“After the conduct of an administrative investigation, this department found that there was no sufficient evidence to conclude that its officials were involved in the alleged extortion attempt,” Caringal said.

“It must be noted that no formal complaint has been filed before this department as the complainants opted to participate in the ongoing NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) investigation. Moreover, the potential witnesses involved are private individuals who cannot be compelled to participate in an administrative proceeding.

“Rest assured this department will not hesitate to implement the full force of the law on any of its officials or employees who may be found guilty of wrongdoing or performed any act unworthy of a public servant,” he added.

He said the DOTC is now awaiting the result of the NBI inquiry, but he did not name the officials who were investigated administratively.

But in an interview, Transportation and Communications Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said the agency has cleared MRT general manager Al Vitangcol III from the accusation of extortion.

“He (Vitangcol) has been cleared because there is no complaint,” Abaya said.

Vitangcol, who was linked to the alleged extortion attempt, had gone on leave but had since reassumed his post.

Caringal’s letter was in response to the good government committee’s request for the DOTC to comment on two resolutions seeking an inquiry into the reported extortion try.

Czech Ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar wrote the committee, insisting “that an extortion attempt took place in July 2012 followed by other suspicious circumstances which led to a questionable bidding process in March 2013.”

The DOTC has awarded the contract for the supply of 48 additional MRT trains to a single bidder, Chinese firm Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co. Inekon did not participate in the bidding.

Rychtar furnished the Rodriguez committee with his unsigned narration of the incident and a signed statement executed by Josef Husek, Inekon’s board chairman. Both documents were earlier given to the NBI.

Husek’s statement, prepared with assistance from Inekon’s “outside counsel” in Prague, was affirmed before a Philippine consulate officer in the Czech capital.

He said the extortion attempt took place on July 9, 2012, when he, a certain Mr. Haloun of Inekon, Vitangcol, a Manalo (Boyet) Maralit, Inekon’s liaison, a Wilson de Vera, and Rychtar had dinner in a Makati restaurant.

“Before the dinner ended, people accompanying Mr. Vitangcol suggested to meet again in a private place to continue our discussion about the collaboration between MRT and Inekon Group… The meeting took place in the residence of the Czech ambassador. Ambassador Rychtar, Mr. Haloun, Mr. Maralit, Mr. Wilson de Vera and I attended the meeting,” he said.

“While talking about the tender, Mr. Wilson de Vera suggested that we would be selected as supplier of the tram vehicles and related services, provided that we paid to an unknown entity a certain amount of money. Mr. Wilson de Vera indicated such payment should amount to USD30 million,” Husek said. – With Lawrence Agcaolili