The justice department will not allow the United States to become a playground for the corrupt or a place to hide and invest stolen riches.” With that stentorian declaration, the US government formally moved last week to seize $12.5 million in assets of Janet Napoles, by filing a civil forfeiture complaint in the Los Angeles Federal District Court.
Among the Napoles properties the US government wants to forfeit are a motel near Disneyland, a condo in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in LA and a Porsche Boxster. It also said Napoles was able to move some $12 million to US accounts under the names of her family members.
The civil action is a significant step in the prosecution of Napoles for plunder, which is separate from and much bigger than the charge of serious illegal detention of which she has been convicted. Aside from five counts of plunder filed at the Sandiganbayan antigraft court, Napoles is also charged with 74 counts of graft and 14 counts of malversation—all stemming from the labyrinthine operation she allegedly set up and ran for many years that laundered the pork barrel funds of certain lawmakers to the tune of an estimated $200 million.
Three of her alleged highest-profile clients are now in detention: Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla. The staggering extent of the uncovered scam shows that many more deserve to join them in jail, ranging from government functionaries and bureaucrats who knowingly facilitated the paperwork that green-lighted the ghost projects that Napoles conjured as so-called beneficiaries of the lawmakers’ pork barrel funds, to congresspersons and senators who went along with the gigantic fraud from 2004 to 2012.
The chronic skimming of the pork barrel had, of course, been going on way before that. But in those eight years, the powerful network Napoles managed to stitch together in the highest rungs of government allowed her to institutionalize the practice, resulting in billions of pesos of taxpayer money ending up in lawmakers’ accounts (as the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s reports on Revilla et al.’s bank records indicate), as well as underwriting the massive spending spree of Napoles family members in America (as the US Justice Department’s suit now confirms).
The Philippines can certainly use all the help it can get to retrieve the huge amounts Napoles had squirrelled away, whether here or abroad. Prosecuting her for her crimes does not end with finding her guilty and sending her to jail; the bigger work is to recover the assets she had plundered because they belong to the Filipino people, whose tax money she and her coconspirators had treated as their personal funds. The files submitted by whistle-blower and erstwhile Napoles confidant Benhur Luy allege that one dollar account alone in Napoles’ name held at least $100 million. And her dollar accounts apparently number nine.
Meanwhile, Napoles’ youngest child, Jeane, is facing a P17.8-million tax evasion case, based on two properties said to be in her name—one in the United States and one in the province of Pangasinan—that not only were not stated in her tax declarations but also, and more tellingly, are not supported by her purported income. Jeane Napoles’ US property is the same condo unit at the swank Ritz-Carlton in LA that is now the subject of the US forfeiture suit.
The odds are that the Philippines will be able to recover these assets, based on the earlier case of former Armed Forces comptroller Carlos Garcia, whose properties in New York purchased with money he earned from kickbacks during his government stint were also seized by the US government. The proceeds of Garcia’s forfeited assets amounting to $1.384 million were recently turned over to the Philippine government by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg.
Justice may have been served in Garcia’s case. In the matter of Janet Napoles, the US action on her properties represents but one prong in the sprawling effort to bring her and her cohorts to justice for their high crimes. The pork barrel scam remains unfinished—festering—business as long as it’s only Napoles who’s made to undergo restitution and punishment. The list of the people she dealt with, which Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is holding, contains some 100 names of persons in and out of government, many of them in powerful positions in the legislative and executive branches.
What has happened to the inquiry into their culpability? When will they be charged, and the fruits of their plunder scrutinized and possibly seized as well?
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