Court issues HDO vs Gatchalian, Pichay

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The Sandiganbayan on Wednesday issued a hold departure order (HDO) against Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay and several others charged in connection with the alleged anomalous purchase by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) of a losing thrift bank owned by the Gatchalians.

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Pichay was the chairman of LWUA when the deal to purchase Express Savings Bank Inc. for P80 million was finalized. He was charged with three counts of graft, three counts of malversation, one count of violation of Republic Act 8791 and one count of violation of the Manual of Regulation for Banks (MORB).

Also covered by the order of the anti-graft court’s Fourth Division are William Gatchalian, owner of Wellex Group Inc. (WGI), his wife Dee Hua, sons Kenneth, and Weslie and 20 others. Weslie is the representative of the First District of Valenzuela. He replaced Sherwin who won a senatorial seat in the May 9 elections.

The senator posted bail on Friday. His father, William, also posted bail of P180,000 for the three criminal cases, malversation and MORB cases.

Also charged were bank executives Yolanda dela Cruz, Elvira Ting, Gregorio Ipong, Generoso Tulagan, Peter Salud, Rogelio Garcia, and Lamberto Mercado Jr.

The Ombudsman said LWUA acquired the bank even if it was financially distressed for five straight years from 2005 to 2009.

The Office of the Ombudsman said LWUA purchased the bank’s majority shares without the approval of the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Department of Finance and the Office of the President. It added that the water agency did not cancel the deal even after an independent audit firm found that the bank had incurred financial losses.

With the HDO, the respondents will not be allowed to leave the country without the permission of the court.

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