Czech envoy insists on $30M extort try

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 26 2014 10:24 AM | Updated as of Feb 26 2014 06:24 PM

MANILA - Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar is standing firm on his allegation that some people tried to extort $30 million from a Czech company interested in supplying additional train coaches for the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), the rail line along EDSA.

However, his affidavit on the alleged incident is unsigned.

Rychtar sent a letter to Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on good government and public accountability, which opened hearings yesterday on two resolutions seeking an inquiry into the ambassador’s allegations.

Rychtar attached to his letter his supposed affidavit on the alleged extortion try, a “letter/affidavit” of Josef Husek, board chairman of Inekon Group, the Czech firm that wanted to supply MRT coaches, and a letter-complaint filed with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Rychtar informed Rodriguez that he submitted these “official papers” to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), which is reportedly investigating the supposed extortion attempt.

The “official papers,” copies of which The STAR obtained, show that the ambassador did not sign his “affidavit.” The complaint sent to the DFA was also unsigned.

The only signed document is the “letter/affidavit” of Husek, who supported his ambassador’s extortion accusation. However, the alleged affidavit was not notarized.

In his letter to Rodriguez, Rychtar said he was confirming “that an extortion attempt took place in July 2012 followed by other suspicious circumstances which led to a questionable bidding process in March 2013.”

“I insist that the President’s family members are not involved and implicated, instead the responsibility lies with some government officials and private persons associated with them,” he said.

“I also point out that I have never accused undersecretaries of DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) named in Resolution 112 as being involved in the extortion attempt,” he said.

The resolution, authored by Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, quoted Rychtar as linking Undersecretaries Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales and Jaime Gonzales to the extortion try.

Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco is the author of the other resolution. Both resolutions were based on newspaper reports on the alleged extortion attempt.

“Finally, the Czech company (Inekon) did not participate in the bidding process due to its unclear terms of reference and suspicious circumstances around the bidding process itself,” Rychtar said in his letter to Rodriguez.

The DOTC has awarded the contract for MRT coaches to a lone bidder, Chinese firm Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co.

The Rodriguez committee invited Rychtar, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, MRT general manager Al Vitangcol, and MRT Corp. chief Thomas de Leon to yesterday’s hearing, but not one of them showed up.

MRT Corp. is the supposed private owner of the MRT line.

Rodriguez said Rychtar has written the committee that he would not be available as he was abroad.

The committee would again invite Abaya, Vitangcol and De Leon to its next hearing.

Rodriguez said he would ask Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to issue a subpoena to invited government officials who would not show up.

Colmenares asked the committee to invite the four DOTC undersecretaries, along with Vitangcol and other persons named by Rychtar in his supposed affidavit.

But Rodriguez, a lawyer like Colmenares, cautioned the latter and other committee members that they should not refer to the ambassador’s statement, saying, “It is just an alleged affidavit that is not even signed and notarized, and he is not here to affirm it.”

He said as far as he was concerned, the unsigned statement was “worthless.”

In his supposed affidavit, Rychtar claimed that the alleged extortion try took place on July 9, 2012, when he, Vitangcol, Husek, a certain Haloun (another Inekon executive), a Boyet Maralit, a Wilson de Vera, and a certain M. de la Cruz had dinner at the Carpaccio restaurant on Yakal street, in Makati City.

After their dinner, he said Maralit “came to me informing that Mr. Vitangcol wants to continue the discussion about the procedures of the deal.”

“I offered that they can continue the talks in my residence. Mr. Vitangcol did not participate in this meeting. I cannot remember now if Mr. M. de la Cruz also left or was present with the others, since it happened a year and a half ago,” he recalled.

“I was not part of the discussion which was held between Mr. Husek on one side and Mr. W. de Vera on the other side. I think all of us considered him to be an envoy of Mr. Vitangcol since he behaved like that at an official dinner. He went straight to the point of suggesting the payment from Inekon to secure the deal from them. I think everybody was surprised with this suggestion of Mr. W. de Vera, which was $30 million,” the ambassador said in his unsigned statement.

He said Husek tried to resist the extortion attempt, telling De Vera that $3 million was the cost of one MRT coach, and that if they paid $30 million, “the price of their product would have to rise up significantly.”

“Mr. W. de Vera left the house during the meeting at least two times to call somebody from his mobile phone. After one of the calls, he came back to the hall. He informed us that Mr. Vitangcol said that the price of one coach cannot exceed $3 million… Then he asked for at least $2.5 million, but even that was refused by Mr. Husek,” Rychtar said.

Husek corroborated his ambassador’s story in his “affidavit,” which he said was prepared with the assistance of Inekon Group’s “outside counsel” in Prague.