Corona has deadline to appeal ill-gotten wealth case

By Michael Punongbayan, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 31 2014 02:36 AM | Updated as of Jan 31 2014 10:36 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Former chief justice Renato Corona and his wife Cristina may still appeal the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision which found probable cause to charge them with a P130.3-million ill-gotten wealth case before the Sandiganbayan.

In accordance with the rules, the Ombudsman said a motion for reconsideration could be filed not later than five days after the Coronas received an official copy of the 22-page Resolution.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales signed the decision approving the recommendations of a special panel of investigators on Jan. 28, 2013 and sent an official copy of the same to Corona and his wife on Wednesday.

The Office of the Ombudsman’s rules provide that the respondents may appeal the ruling until Feb. 3, 2014 or even ask for more time if necessary.

Sources said the ill-gotten wealth charges would not be filed yet before the Sandiganbayan until after the entire process of preliminary investigation is completed, which includes resolving a motion for reconsideration if such is filed in time.

Morales ordered the filing of a P130.3-million forfeiture case against Corona and his wife along with eight perjury charges and violation of Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees on Wednesday.

The former chief justice allegedly accumulated unexplained wealth from 2001 to 2011 and failed to declare the same in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) for the same years.

Corona described the Office of the Ombudsman’s move as part of merciless persecution by the Aquino administration that unseated him through an impeachment trial based on the same allegations of undeclared and supposedly questionable assets almost two years ago.

“This development, unfortunate as it is, is something we have been expecting all along. What fairness could we have expected from an Ombudsman who viciously prevaricated and testified against me as a malicious witness during my sham and multibillion-peso, bribe-laden impeachment trial in 2012?” he said.

No merciless persecution

Malacañang denied yesterday it was subjecting Corona to “merciless persecution” as it welcomed the Ombudsman’s order to file the ill-gotten wealth case against him and his wife.

In a press briefing, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the filing of charges was the logical continuation of the impeachment trial of Corona where he was convicted of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to declare truthful SALNs.

“How can it be labeled as persecution when the basis is documentary evidence? Maybe if the accusations are just continuing on newspapers or television programs, then maybe that is what they can call baseless but this is an action by an independent constitutional body that is the Ombudsman,” Coloma said.

“We trust that this action was taken by the Ombudsman on the basis of objective gathering of information and the case was filed based on concrete evidence. It’s the independence of the office and integrity of the Ombudsman herself that is on the line here. That is why we join our people in hoping that this is a process that will have a beneficial outcome,” Coloma said.

He said after the impeachment trial by the Senate, the Ombudsman evaluated the documents and evidence submitted and arrived at a conclusion that Corona and his wife amassed ill-gotten wealth.

“This is part of a legal process and if we are saying before that the conviction of the chief justice in an impeachment trial proves the viability of our democratic processes, maybe this is also one of those that the people expect to see – that there can be justice obtained on the aspect of ill-gotten wealth,” Coloma said.

Coloma said this was no different from the plunder cases filed against other high-ranking government officials.

Corona had decried the new perjury and forfeiture cases against him and his wife.

He said the persecution was but a replay of the Priority Development Assistance Fund- and Disbursement Acceleration Program-facilitated impeachment proceeding against him.

Corona belied the charges, saying their properties were “product of 45 years of hard, honest work.”

He accused the Palace yesterday of using him to divert public’s attention from issues hounding President Aquino’s controversial discretionary fund known as Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The former chief justice said the absence of valid justification by the Palace on the DAP was very evident during the oral arguments in the Supreme Court last Tuesday.

He said Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza were having a hard time in defending their case.

“Ipit ang Malacañang sa DAP issue at alam nila yun. Hirap na hirap si Solgen at Abad to justify the government position,” Corona pointed out.

Corona reiterated that the DAP was used to finance his ouster as chief justice during the Senate impeachment trial – an issue also tackled during the SC hearing.

He decried the new perjury and P130 million forfeiture cases against him and his wife Cristina approved by Ombudsman Morales, who testified in his impeachment trial in 2012.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to file a tax evasion case against Corona, more than nine months after investigators approved his indictment for allegedly failing to pay taxes amounting to P120.5 million.

A search on the electronic court system of the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) showed that Corona has no pending case before the tax court.

In a press release last May, the DOJ said a panel of prosecutors found probable cause to charge Corona with violation of Sections 254 and 255 of the National Internal Revenue Code before the CTA.

This is different from the ill-gotten wealth case and perjury cases to be filed before the Sandiganbayan.

The tax cases – as recommended in a 65-page resolution dated April 26, 2013 - were based on the complaint filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), which accused Corona of committing the crime of tax evasion and willful failure to file his income tax returns for the years 2003 to 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010.

The BIR said the alleged criminal acts also made him civilly liable to the state in the amount of almost P120.5 million, inclusive of surcharges and interest.

It said Corona earned income from other sources aside from his compensation as a public official, which is contrary to his registration with the BIR as a “pure compensation income earner.”

In his defense, Corona claimed that the period of filing of criminal charges for the years 2002 to 2007 has already prescribed, and that the evidence presented by the BIR – particularly his bank deposits – is inadmissible as the waiver he executed has already expired following the conclusion of the impeachment trial.

The waiver, executed during the trial, authorized appropriate authorities to inspect his bank accounts.

Corona also said that the BIR failed to take into account his family’s wealth in computing his opening net worth, as well as the fact that the money in his bank accounts belonged to other persons.

But in its resolution, the DOJ panel ruled that Corona failed to produce evidence supporting his claim that the money in his bank deposits belongs to other people. It added that the BIR could not be faulted for relying on the respondent’s SALN in computing his opening net worth. – With Janvic Mateo, Aurea Calica, Edu Punay