MANILA - The Sandiganbayan 5th Division has dismissed the graft case of former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri in connection with the allegedly overpriced National Broadband Network (NBN) deal with Chinese firm ZTE.
Neri, who was indicted in 2010 for graft, allegedly got a P200 million commission for ensuring that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) approved the allegedly anomalous $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.
The prosecution alleged that the brokering among Neri, ZTE officials and then poll body chief Benjamin Abalos was done over lunch meetings and golf games.
Neri also allegedly sent Engr. Rodolfo Lozada to meet Abalos and Jose de Venecia III, project manager of Amsterdam Project Holdings Inc., another proponent of the project.
In a resolution dated September 9, 2016, the Sandiganbayan dismissed the case due to lack of evidence to prove Neri's supposed financial interest over the NBN-ZTE deal.
The Sandiganbayan said there was no proof that Neri got the promised commission.
The prosecution also failed to prove Neri used his influence and power as NEDA chief in favoring the deal.
As for the lunch meetings and golf games, the Sandiganbayan said this could have been "mere coincidence."
As members of Wack Wack Golf and Country Club, Neri and Abalos are expected to regularly play golf.
There was also no proof that the games were arranged so Neri and the ZTE officials could meet and discuss the project.
The Sandiganbayan said Neri's only interventions are only on the standard process of reviewing, studying and evaluating the project.
The Sandiganbayan also found nothing irregular with Lozada being told to meet with Abalos.
As telecommunications expert, the court said Lozada could have enlightened Neri on the technical aspect of the project.
"It may be noted though that, apart from Neri giving instructions that all communications concerning the project be coursed through Lozada who was admittedly his friend/consultant, there was no showing that Neri made statements or performed any other act to indicate financial or pecuniary interest on his part," the Sandiganbayan decision read.
"It is noteworthy that matters concerning commission and/or any form of financial gain accruing to him were never tackled in that meeting."
The Sandiganbayan dismissed the case after granting Neri's demurrer to evidence filed after the prosecution rested its case in 2015.
A demurrer to evidence is a motion to dismiss the case for lack of sufficient evidence to convict the accused. It urges court to decide on the case halfway through the trial based solely on the evidence presented by prosecution.
Aside from Neri, Abalos was already cleared in another NBN-ZTE deal graft case by a separate Sandiganbayan division last May.
Meanwhile, Abalos, together with Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and spouse Jose Miguel Arroyo, have separate pending motions to dismiss their remaining related graft charges.