Businesswoman's illegal detention case pits NBI vs. DOJ

A case of a businesswoman accused of illegally detaining a possible witness in a government anomaly has pitted the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) against the agency that supervises it, the Department of Justice (DOJ).

This was after the NBI asked the DOJ to reverse its decision clearing Janet Lim-Napoles, who is linked to the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, for the alleged illegal detention of Benhur Luy, a probable witness in the case.

In a 16-page motion for reconsideration he personally filed with the DOJ, NBI director Nonnatus Rojas questioned why the prosecutors gave more weight on a supposed letter from Luy to his parents saying that he was not taken against his will.

"The letter is not a document which was made under oath. Assuming that the letter should be made admissible, the same does not bear any exculpatory nature as to relieve the respondents of their guilt for the felony of serious illegal detention nor is it fatal to the complaint against them," Rojas argued.

But in its resolution, the DOJ said that contrary to Luy's family's claim in their complaint, the victim's letter did not say he was being taken against his will.

The NBI has charged Napoles and her brother Reynaldo Lim for the alleged illegal detention of Luy, lead employee of JLN Group of Companies, which has been linked to several anomalies involving government projects.

"The categorical statements made by Benhur should therefore prevail over the bare assertions of respondents... Without a doubt, the respondents committed the felony of serious illegal detention," the NBI said in its motion.

In a March 1 letter to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Luy's relatives asked the government's help in ensuring his safety. They claimed Luy was illegally detained by the siblings "to ensure that nobody can directly implicate (the siblings) with the ongoing issues on the fertilizer fund scam, Malampaya fund scam, and anomalies in the implementation of several PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund)-funded projects."

NBI agents arrested Napoles last March 22 at the Pacific Plaza Tower in Taguig City. The operation also resulted in the rescue of Luy, who was detained for three months in a condominium unit in Taguig City.

After his arrest, Napoles complained of chest pains and has since been confined at the St. Luke's Medical Center in Taguig City.

In their complaint, Luy's family claimed they were only allowed by the suspects to see and visit Luy twice since he was "abducted" on Dec. 19, 2012. It was during the second visit that Luy "surreptitiously handed his hand-written note indicating that he is being detained against his will."

Luy, his relatives, as well as the NBI agents involved in the rescue operations, were earlier asked to attend the DOJ preliminary investigation.

On June 10, the DOJ eventually decided to dismiss the case, saying the DOJ was misled in ordering the "rescue" of Luy.

"Had the Secretary of Justice who, with speedy dispatch on March 22, 2013 ordered the NBI to rescue Benhur and investigate, only seen the above-quoted letter, she and the NBI might not have been misled and this preliminary investigation would not have even been commenced,” said the DOJ in its resolution.

Lim was subsequently released from hospital confinement due to the DOJ ruling.

Funding for the fertilizer program was released by virtue of Republic Act 9206 or the General Appropriations Act of 2004. It was the Department of Budget and Management that released P728 million to the DA under Special Allotment Release Order (SARO).

The fund was supposed to have been released to 181 beneficiaries composed of congressional districts, provinces, and municipalities.

The fund, however, was allegedly diverted to the campaign kitty of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 presidential polls instead of being distributed to the farmer- beneficiaries.

According to the Commission on Audit, 76 of the 181 beneficiaries did not receive their shares of the fund, while at least 18 non-beneficiaries received funding. — KBK, GMA News

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