THE Supreme Court (SC) has dismissed an estafa complaint against Far East Bank and Trust Co. (FEBTC) filed by former senator Jamby Madrigal in connection with a $10-million loan for a failed shipping venture with former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo.
The SC’s First Division denied the petition filed by Madrigal as it affirmed the decision dated March 31, 2005 and resolution dated July 8, 2005 of the Court of Appeals.
The loan was granted to Madrigal Transport Inc. (MTI) but the former senator—a member of the Liberal Party headed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd—claimed that she had been inveigled by bank officers Celestino Palma 3rd and Helen Chua into signing a blank set of documents.
Madrigal alleged that, as president of MTI, she applied for a loan of $10.5 million from FEBTC to finance acquisition of a feeder vessel, pursuant to a joint venture agreement between MTI and Lapanday Holdings Corp.
On October 16, 1998, Assistant City Prosecutor Ramon Carisma found probable cause for the filing of the information.
But the CA ruled that there was “no probable cause to warrant the filing of the estafa case under paragraph 1(c), Article 315, against respondents.
It found that the indispensable element in the crime of estafa under paragraph 1(c) that “the paper with the signature of the offended party must be blank” was lacking.
That an experienced businesswoman would thoughtlessly affix her signature to a blank document was considered “incredible” by the appellate court.
The court also found to be devoid of merit the assertion of Madrigal that she did not sign the Comprehensive Surety Agreement in her personal capacity, and that the agreement referred to an “abandoned” loan application.
In junking Madrigal’s complaint, the SC ruled that it similarly found “no evidence that would constitute a prima facie case for estafa against respondents. “
“It is true that a finding of probable cause needs only to rest on evidence showing that, more likely than not, a crime has been committed and was committed by the accused. In the present case, however, no such evidence exists that would engender a well-founded belief that estafa was in fact committed by respondents.”
“[C]ourts are not empowered to substitute their judgment for that of the Secretary of Justice, save only when it was rendered with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. In this case, we find no abuse, much less grave abuse of discretion, on the part of the Secretary of Justice . . . as to warrant a reversal of the CA decision.”