Court acquits Abalos in broadband deal

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The Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division acquitted former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Benjamin Abalos in the graft case filed against him in connection with the botched $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal.

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In 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman charged Abalos with violation of Section 3(h) of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for allegedly brokering on behalf of the Chinese firm ZTE for a fee or commission.

But the anti-graft court said the Ombudsman failed to present sufficient evidence.

“All in all, the evidence only proved that accused was brokering the collaboration between AHI and ZTE, where ZTE would supply equipments to AHI while AHI would contract with the Philippine government for the operation of the NBN. It was not able to establish that he brokered the signed contract between ZTE and the Philippine government and that he did so for a fee,” the court said in a 43-page decision promulgated on Wednesday.

AHI is the Jose de Venecia 3rd’s Amsterdam Holdings, Inc., which was another proponent to implement the NBN project.

The court held that the prosecution’s failure to sufficiently establish its allegation that Abalos brokered for ZTE for a fee in the concluded deal rendered moot the legal issue on whether the alleged act constitutes the offense defined under Section 3(h) of the anti-graft law.

The Ombudsman alleged that Abalos brokered for and on behalf of ZTE as supposedly shown by his alleged acts of attending conferences, lunch meetings and golf games with ZTE officials, including a meeting with the said officials and socializing with them in China.

In one such meeting, it alleged in the charge sheet, Abalos asked the ZTE officials in the presence of de Venecia the balance of his supposed commission for the project.

Abalos was also accused of offering P200 million bribe to former Director General Romulo
Neri of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to ensure his favorable action for the project’s approval, as well as $10 million to de Venecia for the latter to back off from his proposal.

But in its ruling, the anti-graft court said what the evidence showed was that Abalos attended conferences, lunch meetings, and golf games with ZTE officials.

The court said that it was established that Abalos was present when the ZTE officials met with certain government officials “but it was not established that he asked favors from them as regards the signed contract in question.”

While his presence in these meetings would easily imply his involvement or participation, the evidence was “either minimal or sketchy” on the details of what was taken up in the meetings, it added.

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