MANILA - It wasn’t so much the legality of his arrest that concerned Delfin Lee when the Philippine National Police (PNP) captured him on Thursday night.
“What he wanted to know was how he was arrested. He wanted to find out if he has a staff who tipped (us) off,” one of the arresting officers, who requested anonymity, told The STAR yesterday.
Lee, president of Globe Asiatique, was arrested at 6:30 p.m. Thursday as he left the Hyatt Hotel and Casino in Ermita, Manila by the team of Senior Superintendent Conrad Capa and Chief Inspector Giovanni Martinez.
Lee had been a fugitive for nearly two years after a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of allegedly defrauding the Pag-IBIG Fund of P6.6 billion.
“He was so shocked when his arrest warrant was served,” the source said.
On his way to Camp Crame in Quezon City, Lee kept asking questions that centered on one topic: betrayal.
The source added that at one point, Lee even asked: “How long had you been there in the hotel? Or did anyone call you?”
Blame the sun rays
According to the source, Lee arrived in the hotel on board a heavily tinted Porsche Cayenne at about 3 p.m. He had just come from a tightly guarded condominium complex on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City “to attend a meeting.”
Members of the tracker team tasked to arrest Lee noticed the vehicle and did not let go. But they were not sure whether Lee, wanted for syndicated estafa by a Pampanga court, was indeed inside the car.
“It was hard to know if he was inside the vehicle because it was heavily tinted and he had many cars,” the source said.
But during the covert chase on that sunny Thursday afternoon, sun rays hit Lee’s vehicle, giving the tracker team a glimpse of who was sitting on the front passenger seat.
“The team finally saw Lee,” the source said.
The tracker team was “excited,” although they were “still unsure” whether it was really Lee inside the luxury vehicle.
For six months since they had been tasked by PNP Chief Director General Alan Purisima to arrest Lee, this was the first time that they actually saw him inside a car.
According to the source, Lee used about five cars to evade law enforcers. The fugitive had stayed mostly in Metro Manila when he was evading authorities.
“Up to the last minute, we thought we were going to lose him because suddenly there were fireworks when he was going out of the lobby. It was so noisy our members could not hear each other,” the source said.
Nonetheless, the cops rushed toward the hotel entrance to serve the warrant. Operatives surrounded the ramp where Lee’s driver was waiting with his vehicle.
“We could not have allowed him to ride the vehicle, no matter what happened,” the source said.
Lee’s lawyer Gilbert Repizo resisted the arresting officers, and insisted that Lee is now a free man based on the ruling of the Court of Appeals.
Repizo and law enforcers argued for about eight minutes until Lee’s camp decided to surrender him to the arresting team. His arrest ended the law enforcers’ two-year manhunt.
Lee is the first of the five high-profile fugitives known as the “Big 5” to be arrested. Lee had a P2-million bounty on his head.
Palace conducts probe
Malacañang is looking into reports that Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfonso Umali allegedly tried to block the arrest and seek the release of Lee.
Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier said influential people were trying to protect Lee from arrest and the charges he would have to face for allegedly duping real estate clients of their hard earned money.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said over radio dzRB yesterday they would have to find out what happened exactly and not just base their comments on news reports.
“In fairness to Gov. Umali, we need to get his side and find out from other reports, like those from the PNP, to know what really happened,” Coloma said.
Umali, for his part, told The STAR yesterday that he did not intervene in the arrest of Lee.
He admitted calling up Purisima to clarify the status of Lee’s arrest because he said many Mindoreños were aware of the businessman’s case.
Umali said Lee had a subdivision project with former Oriental Mindoro congressman Rod Valencia.
Umali also said that he was requested by Repizo, a former councilor of Calapan City, to inquire whether Lee’s arrest warrant was valid.
Repizo is a personal lawyer of Umali, a close friend and political ally of President Aquino.
Marikina City Rep. Romero Quimbo welcomed yesterday the arrest of Lee, saying it was due to the political will of the Aquino administration and the efficiency of law enforcement agencies.
Quimbo, who was head of the Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund) when Lee started his allegedly anomalous project, said had President Aquino not put up a reward for the businessman’s arrest, it would have been harder for him to be located.
“It again shows that no matter how rich or powerful you are, the long arm of the law will catch up with you, especially if the government has the political will to run after those who have defrauded the government,” he said.
He said the Office of the Ombudsman cleared him a few years ago when his name cropped up in the alleged scam of Lee.
He said it was in 2008 when the housing program began as a pilot project with Lee as the developer with 2,000 units only as a ceiling.
Quimbo said he wanted to make sure the project would work before it would be expanded as Lee had been insisting.
He said he put up safeguards, including a 95 percent guarantee of payment from Lee, to make sure the project would not put the government and ordinary borrowers at risk.
A year later, Quimbo said he was removed from the agency after Lee strongly lobbied to expand the project and the safeguards that were put up were ignored.
He said less than two weeks after he was removed, the ceiling was set aside and loan take-outs from the Pag-IBIG Fund ballooned. – With Aurea Calica, Juancho Mahusay, Paolo Romero