DOJ files tax evasion raps vs. Corona

(Updated 4 p.m.) The Department of Justice (DOJ) has found probable cause to charge ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona for allegedly evading tax liabilities worth P120 million. "In a 65-page resolution, the DOJ found probable cause to file tax evasion charges against Former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona," the DOJ said in a statement Thursday. The DOJ wrapped up last December its investigation on the tax evasion case filed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue against Corona, who was ousted in May last year after being convicted of failure to declare around P200 million in peso and dollar deposits which he acquired while in public office. Charade In a text message, Corona said he expected the DOJ to rule against him, noting that its head, Secretary Leila de Lima, was among the prosecution's witnesses in his impeachment trial at the Senate last year. "What fairness could I have expected from the DOJ whose head, Sec. De Lima, testified against me during my sham impeachment trial? Was there ever any doubt about the outcome of this charade?" Corona said. Corona reiterated his earlier statement that his savings were the product of 45 years of his "diligent work in the private and public sectors." "I do not owe any tax liability to the government. I have never in all my life ever received even a single notice of deficiency assessment from the BIR," he said. The former top judge said the BIR's "contrived claims" were without legal, factual, and moral basis. He added that the tax evasion case was still part of a "continuing political harassment and persecution that they have been incessantly inflicting on me." Corona case Corona was accused of attempting to avoid payment of tax liabilities, in violation of Section 254 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) of 1997. He was also accused of failing to file returns, and supply correct and accurate tax information in violation of Section 255 of the NIRC for the years 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2010. A BIR investigation showed that Corona failed to declare on his statement of assets and liabilities (SALN) a condominium unit at The Columns along Ayala Avenue bought for P3.6 million in 2004, and a property in Fort Bonifacio worth P9.16 million in 2005. "Pursuant to the basic tenet that 'mere allegation is not evidence and is not equivalent to proof,' the panel found that there exists probable cause that the crime complained of by the BIR has been committee, and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof," the DOJ panel said in its resolution. The panel added that the "consistent pattern of under-reporting large amounts of income, and of the failure of the taxpayer to include all of their income in their books and records, such as in the instance case, is indicative of his willfulness to violate Section 254 and 255 of the NIRC." Due process Contrary to Corona's claim, the DOJ said his right to due process was not violated, adding that the BIR conducted preliminary and formal investigation before filing the tax evasion case. According to the DOJ, "[Corona] had been given more than enough opportunity to present his case and/or to be heard," during the preliminary investigation. The DOJ also insisted that the evidence obtained by the BIR against Corona was admissible in court because the waiver he executed to open his bank accounts was "unconditional." The panel quoted lawyers from the banks in which Corona kept the contested wealth as saying, "Atty. Corona's general authority did not state that the waiver... was only for purposes of the impeachment proceedings." "By the time respondent [Corona] signified his intention to withdraw the waiver through his 11 June 2012 letter to Banco de Oro and his 10 October 2012 cease-and-desist letters to other depository banks, the banks had already complied with the BIR's access letters," the DOJ said. The DOJ said Corona also failed to produce evidence to support his claim that the money in his bank accounts belonged to other persons. Daughter, son-in-law Apart from Corona, the BIR had also earlier filed a separate complaint against his daughter, Carla Corona-Castillo and her husband Constantino Castillo III, for tax evasion as well. Corona's daughter was charged for allegedly also violating Section 254 and Section 255 of the NIRC in 2010. The BIR said Carla only filed tax returns for 2008 and 2009, where she declared a total income of P228,040.

Carla's husband, meanwhile, was charged for evading taxes in 2003 and 2009, and failing to file a tax return in 2003.

The BIR said Castillo first registered with the BIR in 1998, but only filed income tax returns from 2005 to 2009. He declared a total income of only P1.933 million for those five years.

Despite the couple's total declared income amounting to P3 million, the BIR said they were able to acquire three properties: a P10.5-million property in Project 3, Quezon City; a P15-million commercial property on Kalayaan Avenue, Quezon City; and an P18-million mansion in La Vista, Quezon City.

The BIR computed the couple's income tax deficiency at more than P30 million: P20.25 million for Mr. Castillo, and P9.93 million for Carla. — KBK, GMA News