Philippine official asked to explain US$10M bank accounts

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Aside from his peso accounts and real estate properties, impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona allegedly has at least US$10 million in bank accounts that the Ombudsman is now asking him to explain.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, acting on several complaints filed with her office, asked Corona to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, allegedly "grossly disproportionate" to his salary, in different banks.

The order was dated April 20 and served on Corona on April 23.

"This office finds that there is reasonable ground to proceed further with the conduct of an inquiry vis-à-vis the charges that you, during your incumbency as a public officer, accumulated wealth that is purportedly grossly disproportionate to your salary and other lawful income," Morales said in the April 20 order, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer.

In addition, Morales said in the letter that she had received information that "there are several bank accounts in PSBank and several other banks in your (Corona's) name, including those denominated in US dollars the aggregate value of which amounts to at least US$10,000,000."

Through his lawyer, Ramon Esguerra, Corona responded with a terse four-point reply: (1) I do not own 10M. It simply does not exist. (2) It's part of the black propaganda and mind-conditioning preparatory to the resumption of trial on May 7. (3) No different from the phoney LRA [Land Registration Authority] list, phoney US property list, phoney surveys, phoney letters to the Inquirer editor, etc., etc. (4) The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over the Chief Justice.

Three complaints

Invoking her powers under Republic Act No. 6770, which defines the powers and functions of the Office of the Ombudsman, Morales asked the Chief Justice to reply in writing to the complaints and to the information concerning his alleged accounts in several banks.

Morales cited three complaints filed against Corona before her office for violation of antigraft laws, invoking the Ombudsman's power to investigate impeachable officers for serious misconduct, including violations of RA 9194, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.

"They claim that you do not have the means to acquire properties in substantial amounts, supposedly considering your 'indicated net worth, modest means and salary as a Chief Justice,'" the Ombudsman said in her letter to Corona.

Complainants Ruperto Aleroza, Gibby Gorres, Harvey Keh, Risa Hontiveros and Albert Concepcion sought to have Corona investigated for allegedly amassing "real and personal properties in significant amounts" and not declaring them in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) as required by law.

In a complaint dated Feb. 17, the complainants cited 10 pieces of real property which were presented by the House prosecution in Corona's impeachment trial at the Senate. These include supposedly "posh" units at the Bellagio, Spanish Bay, The Columns, One Burgundy Plaza condominium developments and houses in the La Vista and Ayala Heights gated communities.

The complainants also cited Corona's alleged 10 peso accounts and two dollar accounts at Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) and five peso accounts with Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).

A second complaint was filed on March 1 by party-list member Walden Bello (Akbayan), Earnest Francis Calayag, Moses Mikael SD Albiento and Tristan Diane Brioso Zinampan.

They claimed that Corona underdeclared the values of his real properties in his SALN and did not declare his property in La Vista, Quezon City, and in McKinley Hills, Taguig.

They claimed that the "actual value of his personal properties in the amount of 31,752,623.00 peso exceeded the declared value in his SALN by 27,252,623.09 peso."

"According to complainants, the real and personal properties supposedly owned by you and your family are manifestly out of proportion to your salary as public officer, as well as other lawful income, during your respective tenures as associate justice and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court," the Ombudsman said.

A third complaint dated March 28 was filed by Emmanuel Tiu Santos who said Corona had unexplained wealth consisting of P24.6 million in five accounts at PSBank and 12 million peso with BPI.

Santos, citing reports published in the Inquirer, pointed out that Corona also withdrew 32.6 million peso on the day he was impeached.

Trial resumes May 7

"While you may only be removed from office through impeachment proceedings, this office has, as reflected earlier, the power and duty to investigate you for any serious misconduct in office for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted. It was on this account that this Office conducted an initial evaluation on the complaints," the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman's move comes as Corona's impeachment trial at the Senate resumes on May 7 after Congress returns from a six-week break.

It will be the turn of the defense to present its case for Corona.

The prosecution sought to subpoena Corona's alleged dollar accounts, but the Supreme Court stopped the Senate from compelling the banks to submit documents on the alleged dollar accounts.

Corona has said he would open his bank accounts to public scrutiny in due time.

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