NBI recommends clearing MRT chief of extort raps

By Aie Balagtas See, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 19 2014 04:46 AM | Updated as of Feb 19 2014 12:46 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Citing insufficient evidence, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has recommended clearing Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III in the $30-million extortion charge hurled against him by Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar and railway firm Inekon Group.

“There’s no sufficient evidence na nakita laban sa kanya (found against Vitangcol),” a source from the Department of Justice told The STAR.

The source said initial findings showed that the charges against Vitangcol in the P3.8-billion MRT expansion project stemmed from a mere “he said, she said” allegation.

“No one corroborated the statement that Vitangcol ordered through a phone call to ask for money,” the source said.

The DOJ will still review the results of the NBI investigation.

The phone call the source referred to was the one Wilson de Vera allegedly made while he and the Inekon officials were at Rychtar’s residence in Forbes Park, Makati on July 9, 2012.

In his affidavit submitted to the NBI in October, Inekon board chairman Josef Husek 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 (pay) to an unknown entity a certain amount of money. Mr. Wilson de Vera indicated such payment should amount to US$30 million.”

De Vera is the alleged middleman between Vitangcol and Rychtar. It was not clear, however, whom he really worked for.

“This suggestion shocked us, as we did not expect this way of doing business. We tried to explain that any paid sum would inevitably increase the final price of our products and services, because the prices (were) carefully calculated with regard to process of our subcontractors and value of the technology to be used in the project,” Husek added.

Husek stated that De Vera left the premises several times to “consult someone” over the phone.

“When he finally returned to the residence, he told us that according to Mr. Vitangcol the contract price for one tram vehicle (will) not exceed US$3 million, as that is a fixed ceiling price set forth in an MRT consultancy expert report. He then told us that the sum of US$2.5 million instead of US$30 million indicated originally would be sufficient,” Husek said.

Inekon refused the proposal and they left the meeting, Husek stated.

“Before we did so, Mr. Wilson de Vera encouraged us to think about his suggestion until the official meeting scheduled for the next day at MRT,” Husek said.

According to the source, none of the Inekon officials corroborated Husek’s claims.

None of them were also able to prove that De Vera indeed received orders from Vitangcol over the phone that night.

The source said Vitangcol was cleared as far as the NBI is concerned, unless a new witness or new evidence is found.

The MRT 3 was constructed as a build-lease-transfer project in 1999.

CKD Prague supplied the 73 trams. CKD was acquired by Siemens and then by Inekon.

The P3.8-billion MRT 3 expansion project involves the acquisition of 48 new trains. Currently, MRT 3 has 73 Czech-made trains.

For about two years now, Inekon has pushed for a government-to-government contract to provide 52 new light rail vehicles and 21 option cars as well as a refurbishing and maintenance deal for the existing fleet.

The company pointed out that this is pursuant to the original contract, which provides that the MRT 3 and original equipment manufacturer should undertake capacity expansion after five years.

The government-to-government procurement contract will be supported by the Czech Republic’s Export Credit Agency.