Sandiganbayan quashes graft charge against VP’s wife

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2011 06:27 PM | Updated as of Apr 12 2011 02:27 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Sandiganbayan junked a graft case against the wife of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Elenita, due to weak evidence.

In a 69-page decision penned by Presiding Justice Edilberto Sandoval, the second division of the anti-graft court said the prosecution failed to produce evidence that Elenita, a former Makati City mayor, had conspired with other local officials and private individuals for the allegedly excessive purchase of office partitions and furniture worth P58.04 million in 2000 and 2001.

Her co-accused, who were also eventually acquitted are: city administrator Nicanor V. Santiago Jr; general services department head Ernesto A. Aspillaga; and private defendants Li Yee Shing, Jason Li and Vivian M. Edurise, all corporate officers of furniture firm Office Gallery International Inc.

“This court is duty-bound to spare the accused from the unnecessary burden, expense and anxiety of having to defend themselves in public trial. The admission made in open court early on by the Prosecution that the Information they filed in this case does not conform with evidence on record, foretold a bleak conclusion to this case,” the court declared.

The court said the prosecution was even unclear about the offense it is trying to connect to the respondents: undue injury caused to the government on account of the alleged excess purchase or overprice; or unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference given to Office Gallery International Inc. because the transaction was a negotiated purchase.

It also did not give credence to testimonies from a team of government auditors, led by newly-appointed Commission on Audit Commissioner Heidi Mendoza.

“It is beyond belief that the Prosecution came to Court with evidence comprising merely of a bare comparison of the number of partitions purchased as appearing in the Purchase Order, on one hand, and partitions planned to be used as indicated in the Furniture Layout Plan, on the other, without referring to a confirmatory physical count of the partitions actually used in the City Hall,” the court pointed out.

It noted Mendoza “confessed that the details of the items compared in their audit are not the same as those described in the purchase orders” and used in the references prices by her team.

“This Court remains in disbelief that the prosecution came to Court with such shoddy evidence, leaving us no alternative. In the face of the weakness of the Prosecution’s case to prove the elements of the offense charged against the accused, there remains no further reason to hold them for trial under the present indictment,” the court said.

Associate Justices Teresita V. Diaz-Baldos and Samuel R. Martires concurred in the decision.