Officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Office of the Solicitor General have a lot of explaining to do for allowing to lapse the freeze order on 32 back accounts linked to former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante, Sen. Richard Gordon said Wednesday
An outraged Gordon said at the very least there was negligence on the part of these agencies since they could have asked for an extension of the freeze order, pending the outcome of investigations - both by the Senate and Ombudsman - on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam allegedly masterminded by Bolante.
“As chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee (investigating the fertilizer fund scam), I am dismayed and chagrined at this development,” Gordon said. “They had six months, the maximum time allowed by law during which the accounts were frozen pero walang ginawa ang AMLC.”
Gordon said the AMLC and OSG could have also filed a case for forfeiture of the Bolante assets, but did not.
He said what made it worse was that 10 days before the freeze order lapsed the AMLC executive director assured the Senate they were investigating the so-called Bolante accounts and would release their findings shortly.
This was on December 10, at a Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the fertilizer fund scam.
On December 20, the freeze order lapsed¸ evidently before AMLC could complete its investigation and make a report.
On December 22, testimony given at another fertilizer fund scam hearing bolstered suspicions of money laundering in connection with the disbursement of the fertilizer fund.
“There was rank failure on the part of the AMLC and the OSG and yet they have not even bothered to explain to the public why they failed to seek an extension of the freeze order,” Gordon said.
The committee has yet to make inquiries whether the so-called Bolante accounts have been emptied or touched. Gordon said it was not far-fetched that some unseen administration hands were behind this apparent attempt to get Bolante off the hook or at least be spared from being charged in court.
“Up to now, the Ombudsman has yet to file a case against Bolante. Even the DOJ [Department of Justice] has not acted on the (false testimony and disobedience to Senate summonses) complaint we filed against Bolante,” he lamented. “It’s not far-fetched to think that big people are protecting these people (involved in the scam).”
A Court of Appeals official earlier said the expiration of the freeze order would ipso facto give Bolante the free hand to do whatever he wants to do with the said accounts.
“Since there is no extension of the freeze order, Bolante cannot be prevented from withdrawing the funds,” the official said.
The four-month freeze order covered accounts and insurance policies at Banco de Oro Universal Bank, Citbank, N.A., East-West Bank, Maybank Phils. Inc, Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co., Philippine National Bank, Insular Life Assurance Company, PruLife Insurance Corp. of UK, Manufacturers Life Ins. Co., BPI-MS Insurance Corp., Performance Foreign Exchange Corp., Prudential Bank, Bank of the Philippine Islands, Union Bank of the Philippines, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and Standard Chartered Bank.
Aside from Bolante, the AMLC identified the other holders of these various accounts as Molugan Foundation, Alliance for the Conservation of the Environment of Pangasinan Inc., Santa Lucia Education Association of Bulacan Inc., Livelihood Corp. (Livecor), Ariel Panganiban, and couple Samuel and Katherine Bombeo.
On the other hand, Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera expressed optimism that the banks will not easily allow Bolante from touching the subject accounts despite the expiration of the freeze order.
Devanadera said her office is currently studying other legal measures to preserve the accounts.
“I cannot actually divulge the legal steps that I will take because antimoney laundering cases are supposed to be confidential,” Devanadera said.
On August 2008, the CA’s First Division issued a resolution extending for four months or until December 20, 2008 the freeze order it issued on the alleged 32 accounts being linked to the fertilizer-fund scam.
In the same resolution penned Associate Justice Pampio Abarintos, the CA’s former First Division removed from the coverage of the freeze order more than 30 other accounts in various banks and institutions after it was learned that these accounts have already been “cancelled, written off, closed or expired.”
On July 1, 2008, the CA issued a twenty-day freeze order on 70 accounts under the name of Bolante and several other individuals and entities believed to be involved in the fertilizer scam.
The freeze order was later extended up to August 19, 2008.
The Antimoney Laundering Council had asked the CA to extend the freeze order to allow it to conduct and conclude an exhaustive and comprehensive financial investigation of the said accounts to determine the extent of criminal activity of the persons involved, without possible dissipation of funds in the said accounts.
Based on the initial investigation conducted by the Secretariat’s Compliance and Investigation Staff of the AMLC, Livecor transferred in 2004 huge sums of money to the accounts of Molugan on four separate occasions in the total amount of P172.6 million, and the AGS in the amount of P40 million.
Molugan then transferred P38 million to AGS on April 2004 with AGS returning the favor by transferring the same amount to Molugan on exactly the same day.
The report said the transactions “have no underlying legal or trade obligation, purpose or economic justification.”
It added that the transactions are not commensurate with the business capacity of Molugan and AGS, since they were lowly capitalized at only P50,000 each.
At the time of the transactions, Bolante was the acting chairman of Livecor while Samuel Bombeo was the president, secretary, treasurer and the sole signatory for the checking account of Molugan.
Bombeo together with Ariel Panganiban were the signatories for the account of AGS. With Business Mirror