Fallout from Napoles’ indictment | Inquirer Business
Sunday, August 19, 2018
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Fallout from Napoles’ indictment

The order of a United States grand jury to indict businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles and some members of her family for money laundering illustrates the US government’s strong resolve against that crime, more so if its banking system is used for its commission.

In contrast to the bureaucratic procedures of our anti-money laundering law, the grand jury quickly issued a freeze order on Napoles’ assets in the US after the US justice department presented evidence that, on its face, showed they were sourced from the pork barrel funds of some Filipino congressmen and senators.

It’s been four years since Napoles and the people who allegedly conspired with her in diverting those funds to their pockets were haled to court and their trial is still ongoing.

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Their lawyers have managed to delay the proceedings through various maneuvers by invoking their clients’ right to due process, no matter how strained.

The news about the grand jury’s action on Napoles and her family was, by and large, favorably received by the public. Many netizens viewed the indictment as an assurance that justice will be served on Napoles and her cohorts, courtesy of the US government.

There were calls for the immediate extradition of Napoles and her family to the US despite the fact that the Sandiganbayan is still hearing her cases and Philippine law prohibits the extradition of a Filipino while a criminal case against him or her is pending in court.

The willingness of many Filipinos to waive the Sandiganbayan’s judicial authority over Napoles in favor of another country’s court is indicative of the public’s distrust or lack of faith in our judicial system.

There is underlying apprehension that Napoles’ vast financial resources (and vulnerability as a tool for political manipulation) may result in her acquittal or being declared the least guilty in the plunder cases against her.

And this concern is not entirely baseless considering she almost succeeded in transforming herself from the principal accused to state witness when she was provisionally admitted to the Witness Protection Program by former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre III.

Had Aguirre’s replacement, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, not intervened and cancelled her provisional admission, we would have been the laughing stock of the international legal community.

With the grand jury indictment hanging like a Sword of Damocles over Napoles’ head, there is more incentive for her to delay her trial for as long as possible to prevent her extradition to the US. Her lawyers will only be too glad to oblige because that means continued payment of their attorney’s fees.

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There may be more to the grand jury indictment than has been reported. The charge sheet names only Napoles and some members of her family as liable for money laundering.

Note that this crime could not have been committed without the participation of the lawmakers who made possible Napoles’ alleged salting of $20 million worth of Filipino taxpayers’ money to the US.

Knowing the US justice department’s meticulous handling of criminal cases, it is reasonable to assume the names of those lawmakers formed part of the evidence it submitted to justify the filing of charges against Napoles and company.

Thus, there is a strong possibility that they may have been confidentially indicted as either principals or accessories to the crime of money laundering.
To prevent the accused from avoiding arrest, grand juries sometimes issue “sealed indictments” or charge sheets that are not made public and are unsealed only when their subjects are within reach by law enforcement authorities.

If there are such sealed indictments, the lawmakers who dealt with Napoles for their pork barrel funds may find themselves being arrested and handcuffed once they step into US territory.

By going after Napoles, the US is sending a strong message to criminals all over the world it will not allow its banking system to be used as an instrument for the trafficking or concealment of illegally acquired wealth or dirty money.

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