MANILA (UPDATED) - Pharmally executives Mohit and Twinkle Dargani paid a private aircraft company nearly P2 million to escape the Senate's arrest order, Senator Risa Hontiveros said Wednesday.
The Dargani siblings were arrested in Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte's hometown, on Nov. 14 on board a private plane bound for Kuala Lumpur.
Hontiveros said that the P1.850 million payment was "made in cash" to Singapore based-Seletar Jet Charter Pte Ltd, and it only covered the fee for the plane use, excluding other expenses.
She noted that in 2020, Mohit paid only P97,000 in taxes while Twinkle paid P1,000.
"Kung kinaya ng mga Darganis na magbayad ng ganyang halaga, na halos 2-milyon pesos para sa isang chartered flight, mukhang hindi tama ang income tax na binayaran nila," she said during a press briefing.
(If the Darganis were able to pay almost P2 million for a chartered flight, it seems they're not paying the right amount of income tax.)
"At bukod pa d'yan, kung hindi sila ang nagbayad, ang tanong tuloy, sino ang nagbayad? The Darganis must be very important to that person who paid for it."
(Aside from that, if they weren't the ones who paid for it, who did?)
The lawmaker also did not discount the possibility that Pharmally CEO Huang Tzu Yen, who is based in Singapore, could be the one who shouldered the payment.
The Darganis were also allowed to board the aircraft despite the Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order issued against them as early as Sep. 25, Hontiveros said.
Portion of the incident report dated Nov. 14 read: “Upon arrival of the passengers, they were presented to the immigration personnel at the ramp near the aircraft and were checked personally one by one with their passport, and they were allowed to board the aircraft.”
The senator said she was inclined to "dig deeper" as this might be related to the "pastillas" bribe scheme involving the Bureau of Immigration.
Immigration officials will be asked about this matter when the hearing resumes on Friday, she said.
"Could it be possible na nabigyan ng pastillas itong mga frontline immigration officer? Or baka naman sila ang nakatulong na mainform ang mga awtoridad kung kaya dapat sila pasalamatan? What is the story? And the biggest question of all: Is there a reason kung bakit Davao airport ang pinili nilang departure point?" she said.
(Could it be possible the frontline immigration officer received a bribe? Or maybe they were the ones who helped inform the authorities so they should be thanked. What is the story? And the biggest question of all: Is there a reason why they chose Davao airport as their departure point?)
Atty. Ferdinand Topacio, co-counsel for the Darganis, criticized Hontiveros for allegedly using the issue to boost her popularity for the upcoming elections.
" We are asking Hontiveros not to use the Darganis in order to boost her dismal poll numbers," he said in a statement.
Topacio also said that Hontiveros should instead file a complaint against the Darganis before the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
"Unless Ms. Hontiveros had been appointed BIR Commissioner, everything she says regarding the taxes of the Darganis is cow dung. The Supreme Court has already stated that the Senate is not a court (unless you include the term 'Kangaroo'), nor is it an investigative agency," he said.
"She should walk the walk and file a complaint before the BIR as an informant if she has a case against the Darganis," Topacio added.
The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee is investigating Pharmally after records showed that government awarded contracts worth billions of pesos to the company that only had less than a million pesos in paid-up capital.
Some senators earlier said the budget department bought allegedly overpriced face masks and RT-PCR test kits from the company, whose executives are accused of fraudulent schemes in Taiwan, instead of procuring from local suppliers that were selling cheaper items.
The panel has so far recommended the filing of various charges against Pharmally's officers, Chinese businessman and former presidential economic adviser Michael Yang and Lao, among others, due to the allegedly anomalous transactions.
Duterte has denied the overpricing allegations and said the deals with Pharmally were above aboard.
--With reports from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News