US court: Chavit corrupt;
tale hearsay, no substance
PLUNDER CASE VS ERAP COLLAPSES
Friday, 11 22, 2002
The Arroyo administration's plunder case against detained President Joseph Estrada has collapsed, for all intents and purposes.
A US federal court judged the Philippine government's "star witness" former Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson an "obviously corrupt Philippine official" whose testimony was intimated to be perjurious and clearly "uncorroborated," during the deliberations and in the court order itself.
The court order granting Charlie "Atong" Ang house arrest on grounds of "insufficient evidence" was released last week in Nevada, and publicized in the Reno Gazette two days ago, or Nov. 20, 2002.
This judgment of the federal court is contained in an order issued by the US Federal Court in Nevada, granting Ang, a co-accused of Estrada in the plunder case, his petition for a house arrest.
The court said Ang has been ordered released from prison, founded on the "lack of sufficient basis for the crime of plunder against him, stating the allegations leveled against Ang are based on "sole, uncorroborated testimony of an obviously corrupt Philippine public official (referring to Singson)."
Documents consisting of impeachment and the anti-graft court transcripts of the testimony of Singson relative to the plunder charges against Estrada were submitted to the US Federal Court to aid it in deliberating the extradition case of Ang, a friend of Estrada.
It was the same testimony and transcripts of Singson that were the basis of the impeachment complaint against the ousted leader, and the same testimony that was the basis of the Arroyo administration in charging Estrada and his co-accused with plunder, an offense that carries no bail.
A defense lawyer told the Tribune: "It is clear that the US court found Chavit's testimony to be full of lies, and even saw through Chavit's corrupt ways. If this can't stand in the US court, how can this same testimony stand in the Sandiganbayan? The justices should really think twice and quickly dismiss the plunder case against Mr. Estrada on the basis of insufficient evidence. To continue with this is clearly a mockery of justice."
The US ruling, under a fair and impartial Philippine court, should have an impact on the plunder case against Estrada and his co-accused, as well as an impact on the extradition case against Manila 6th District Rep. Mark Jimenez, whom the Supreme Court ruled should not be granted bail and should forthwith be jailed, pending court judgment on Jimenez's extradition case.
Singson has been touted by the prosecution as its star witness against Estrada, alleging that the deposed leader, as a sitting president, had received jueteng payoffs in the millions from him, as the national jueteng collector, as well as claiming that Estrada had collected some P130 million in tobacco excise tax which Singson claimed he and Atong Ang had diverted to benefit Estrada, saying they had been ordered to do so by the former chief executive under a Sinsgon-claimed "special operations racket."
A Commission on Audit (CoA) report, however, belies the Singson testimony and proves the tobacco excise tax had been regularly diverted by Singson, long before Estrada became president.
Singson has also been found by CoA to have plundered at least P1 billion in tobacco excise taxes and several complaints have been lodged against him. But the strong documentary evidence presented, however, the Ombudsman dismissed the cases against Singson.
The star witness offered the very same testimony that was junked by the US Federal Court in Nevada as a pack of lies coming from a corrupt Philippine official before the Senate impeachment court and the Sandiganbayan Special Division.
Even after Singson underwent cross-examination conducted by the court-appointed defense counsel, the former governor had already admitted in open court that he has no evidence against the detained leader, and that it was only his word he could offer.
The prosecution has not presented anyone else as its witness to corroborate the testimony of Singson.
Based on the testimony of Singson, the only person who can corroborate his claims against Estrada is Atong Ang, who has denied the allegations raised by Singson.
Ang's alleged participation in the plunder by Estrada concerns the alleged jueteng payoffs, the tobacco excise tax diversion charge and the money in the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation which Singson and the prosecution claim comes from the illegal numbers game.
Two other charges against Estrada involve his alleged bank deposits in the name of Jose Velarde and the commissions alleged to have been received by Estrada on the Best World Resources shares scam.
The prosecution's other "starwitness" banker Clarissa Ocampo bombed out in court during the cross-examination, admitting that she concluded Estrada is Jose Velarde merely because he had signed as Jose Velarde in investment trust documents.
Documentary evidence presented by the defense counsels showed that the owner of the Jose Velarde account was Jaime Dichaves, a businessman friend of Estrada.
It was also shown in court that the documents signed by Estrada were not honored by Equitable PCI Bank because his signature was different from that of Dichaves, signing as Jose Velarde. Besides which, Estrada signed the name Jose Velarde in the space under the heading "Principal, BY" which defense counsels said clearly shows that Estrada was not the principal, but merely representing the principal, Jose Velarde.
It was also admitted by Ocampo, under cross-examination, that she, too, had signed for and in behalf of the named investment manager.
To date, after presenting close to 50 witnesses for the prosecution, the government has failed in proving its case of plunder against Estrada. The prosecution panel has failed to prove that Estrada had received jueteng payoffs. Neither has it succeeded in proving that he is Jose Velarde, despite having presented the prosecution's two starwitnesses.
The US Federal Court in Nevada, which recently granted Ang, a co-accused of Estrada, house arrest, also stated that Ang may be released from detention before Christmas on condition that he post a property bail amounting to $300,000 and demonstrate that this comes from legitimate sources.
"He has to present documents to indicate the source of the money," Donald Etra, Ang's lawyer was quoted Wednesday by the Reno Gazette-Journal. Etra said he hopes to have the documentation within the next few weeks.
A court spokesman said US District Magistrate Lawrence Leavitt in Las Vegas agreed last Friday to release Ang with conditions, including electronic home monitoring and the surrender of Ang's passport which has cancelled by the Philippine government last January.
Lawyers interviewed by the Tribune said they were not surprised at the grounds cited by the US judge in granting Ang house arrest while he awaits an extradition hearing scheduled for June 24 this year.
"Even a freshman law student can tell that the testimony of Singson was hearsay and clearly uncorroborated that is also full of holes and strictly speaking, cannot stand up in court," said one lawyer.
Another stated: "It's incredible that the judges even gave it their time of day, when Singson's testimony is clearly useless."
Estrada dismissed all his lawyers and refuses to recognize the court's jurisdiction over him, saying he cannot expect to find justice in a court of law in this country, as the the courts are biased against him and politically partisan. NCO