NBI looking at SARO scam 'big fish'

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 07 2014 01:55 AM | Updated as of Jan 07 2014 09:55 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is looking into the possible involvement of higher officials in a syndicate behind the falsification of special allotment release orders (SAROs).

“The investigators are not ruling out the involvement of higher officials in the SARO scam. So far though, the same has not been established yet,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said in a text message.

De Lima earlier confirmed that Budget Undersecretary Mario Relampagos is among those being investigated by the NBI since some of his staff, including his secretary, driver and janitor, were tagged as members of the syndicate.

De Lima said Relampagos has submitted a statement to the NBI, which is under her office’s administrative supervision.

She refused to reveal details of the statement, but a source in the bureau said Relampagos denied any involvement in the scam.

De Lima said Relampagos would “most probably” be invited for questioning.

The NBI earlier verified that the SAROs for two projects in Cagayan and Aklan provinces worth P161 million and P77 million, respectively, were falsified.

De Lima said initial investigation showed that a DBM personnel led by a certain “supremo,” and staff of several congressmen were involved in the racket.

She said evidence also pointed to a consultant of Aklan Rep. Teodoro Haresco as the source of the two fake SAROs. Haresco was a former party-list representative.

But she said there has been no indication at this point that the congressmen, whose staff had been tagged in the scam, were involved.

“The NBI only established so far involvement of congressional staff,” she said.

De Lima has given the NBI until end of this month to complete the probe and submit a report.

She said some of those being investigated are being eyed as state witnesses.

Except for differences in font styles, the fake SAROs have the same SARO numbers, codes, amount of money, dates and name of signatories compared with the authentic ones.

The fake SAROs were discovered last November at the height of the investigation into the congressional pork barrel fund scam in which businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles was tagged as the mastermind.

Napoles allegedly used nonexistent foundations to divert Priority Development Assistance Fund and Malampaya funds with the help of several lawmakers and implementing government agencies.