By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
BECAUSE of the indictment of suspected pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles for money laundering in the U.S., Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said the local courts may have to suspend trial on Napoles’s cases including five counts of plunder and extradite her once the U.S. sends an official request to that effect.
“We can surrender (Napoles) temporarily to the U.S. authorities so that her trial for money laundering could be completed there,” Guevarra said.
Napoles and five family members have been indicted in the U.S. for allegedly laundering some $20 million in public funds obtained through the pork barrel fund scam.
Napoles, her children Jo Christine, James Christopher and Jeane Catherine; her brother Reynaldo and his wife Ana Marie were indicted by a federal grand jury for the crime of conspiracy to commit money laundering, domestic money laundering and international money laundering.
Guevarra said the suspension of court hearings on Napoles’ cases is “one of two legal options under our extradition treaty if the U.S. officially requests the extradition of Janet Napoles.” The other option under the treaty, he said, is for extradition to proceed after her cases with the Sandiganbayan are terminated or resolved.
Under the second scenario, Guevarra said Napoles’ extradition to the U.S. would have to wait for more years, considering that she has many cases pending with the anti-graft court.
State witness and former Napoles relative and employee Benhur Luy could also be tapped by U.S. authorities to testify in the money laundering case against her, Guevarra said.
“As to Benhur Luy, if he will be needed to testify as a witness in the U.S. courts, he may go there voluntarily if he has no pending court cases here, or his deposition may be taken here by the U.S. prosecutors in the presence of defense counsel. That’s their call,” the Justice chief said.
Luy told the Sandiganbayan First Division that he used to transfer cash to Napoles’ bank accounts in the U.S. “Pinapa-telegraphic po namin sa U.S., sa kanyang accounts,” Luy said, referring to Napoles.
Luy was testifying in the continuation of the trial of the graft cases against Napoles, former Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. and his former aide Richard Cambe.
In the charge sheet, the federal grand jury accused Napoles and other defendants of fraudulently converting money from the multi-billion-peso Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The money was allegedly paid to dozens of non-governmental organizations controlled by Napoles and diverted as kickbacks to legislators and other government officials, and for the personal use of the Napoles family.
It said approximately $20 million of the funds were diverted to money remitters in the Philippines and then wired to Southern California bank accounts where the money was used to purchase real estate, shares in two businesses, two Porsche Boxsters and finance the living expenses of three family members residing in the United States: Jeane Napoles and the Lim couple.
It was reported that approximately $12.5 million in Southern California real estate had been seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is now subject of a civil forfeiture case pending before U.S. District Judge James Selna.
If the court orders the forfeiture of the assets, the U.S. would promptly work with Philippine officials for the return of the stolen funds to the Philippine government.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said they were looking forward to the return of the $20 million to the government. “With the help of U.S. authorities, who have been in continuous coordination with our government, the funds that Mrs. Napoles and her co-defendants attempted to hide away will soon be returned for the benefit of the Filipino people,” Roque said.
“The charge of money laundering against Mrs. Napoles and her co-defendants shows that there is reason to believe that they attempted to retain the ill-gotten gains from the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam,” Roque added.