• DFA calls Czech envoy to explain ‘Extort’ try

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    CZECH Ambassador to Manila Josef Rychtar was summoned on Monday by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to explain his allegation that some officials of the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) tried to extort $30 million from a Czech firm that supplies train coaches.

    Rychtar recently confirmed that the amount was asked from officials of Inekon during a meeting on a Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT 3) project. He also said the company, which provided the coaches for MRT 1, has since been “blacklisted.”

    “We will invite the Czech ambassador to shed light on the reports [that]came out in the papers this week and to clarify the statements he reportedly made on the matter,” Raul Hernandez, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a text message.

    Rychtar arrived at the DFA late yesterday afternoon but Hernandez did not give any details on who met with the ambassador or what was discussed.

    Reports about the extortion attempt was first published by The Manila Times through a three-part series written by the paper’s Chairman Emeritus, Dr. Dante A. Ang.

    Dr. Ang wrote that the Inekon proposal was the subject of conversations between Rychtar, MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol and Vitangcol’s friends.

    In the course of the conversations, Vitangcols’ associates proposed that Inekon pay $30 million to seal the MRT contract. The demand was eventually lowered to $2.5 million.

    Last week, Rychtar named the associates as Transportation Undersecretaries Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales and Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano.

    They were appointees of then Transportation and now Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

    Joseph Emilio Abaya, the current head of the department, retained Roxas’ appointees.

    On Friday, Abaya said he has ordered an investigation into Rychtar’s allegations.

    Even presidential sister Ballsy Cruz and her husband, Eldon, were dragged into the controversy. But Rychtar wrote President Benigno Aquino 3rd, saying the couple were never involved in the extortion attempt.

    Rychtar’s revelations has reportedly drawn the ire not only of the DOTC but of Malacañang officials who moved to “discredit” the envoy and clear not only Vitangcol but the agency itself .

    This effort was markedly noticeable in Palace spokesman Secretary Edwin Lacierda’s words on the subject during a press briefing last week where he denied that Inekon had been “blacklisted.”

    ”We are asking the Czech ambassador to—as in any accusation—present us evidence and we will investigate,” he said.

    In April, Lacierda said Abaya met with Rychtar and encouraged the Inekon group to bid for the 40 coaches for the MRT-3.

    He said the group purchased bid documents but did not submit its bid.

    ”The first issue alone that Inekon was blacklisted is already not true,” Lacierda stressed.
    Abaya insisted that the Czech official was, in effect, lying.

    However, it is obvious that Inekon would never be entertained by DOTC officials – and is therefore the subject of a practical blacklist.

    The Czech government, over the last three years, has reportedly sent more than 10 letters to the DOTC supporting Inekon’s proposal and submitted to the DOTC “booklets of extensive technical plans and financial proposals in order to comply with Philippine Procurement Procedures.”

    Rychtar informed the President of Inekon’s efforts in a letter dated June 29 but up until Monday, Inekon and the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Trade and Foreign Affairs are still waiting for a response to the letters.

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