• Former train GM pleads ‘not guilty’ to graft raps

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    Former Metro Rail Transit (MRT 3) General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd pleaded “not guilty” to graft charges he is facing during his arraignment before the Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division on Wednesday.

    The preliminary conference, where the parties will mark documentary evidence that they intend to present during trial, is scheduled for August 30 and 31 while the pre-trial is scheduled for September 28.

    Vitangcol and Wilson de Vera, who are out on bail, were charged with violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act (RA) 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) in two separate charge sheets filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in November.

    One case—docketed as SB-16-CRM-1207—stemmed from an alleged extortion try on representatives of Czech company Inekon Group in connection with the contract or transaction for the supply of Light Rail Vehicles (LRVs) in 2012, while the other—docketed as SB-16-CRM-1208—stemmed from an alleged request for the Inekon representatives to forge a joint venture deal with a group in connection with the contract or transaction for the train system’s maintenance service.

    De Vera pleaded not guilty in a conditional arraignment last year for purposes of a travel clearance, which he sought from the court.

    The Office of the Ombudsman earlier conducted a fact-finding investigation that was prompted by news reports on the alleged extortion try.

    The Manila Times Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante Ang was the first to report about the meetings held between Inekon officials and Vitangcol, who left office in 2014.

    In filing the charges last year, the Ombudsman’s office alleged that Vitangcol, through de Vera, attempted to extort money from Inekon representatives in connection with the contract or transaction for the supply of LRVs or supposedly in exchange for the selection of Inekon as supplier of the LRVs.

    The Inekon representatives turned down the alleged request or demand for $30 million so the sum was
    supposedly reduced to $2.5 million that they also refused to give, it said.

    Also, the Ombudsman’s office alleged that Vitangcol, with the conspiracy of de Vera, requested or insisted to the Inekon representatives to forge a joint venture agreement with a group including de Vera for a 60-40 percent sharing agreement between Inekon and the group, respectively, in connection with the contract or transaction for the maintenance service of the MRT 3.

    The Inekon representatives turned down this alleged request or demand, it said.

    Vitangcol has dismissed the charges as “baseless” and said what the Office of the Ombudsman filed “is just a purely harassment case against me.”

    Earlier, he filed a motion to quash, arguing that the cases fall under the Regional Trial Court’s jurisdiction because these do not allege bribery or any injury to the government.

    Vitangcol cited RA 10660, which amended Presidential Decree 1606 and which took effect on May 5, 2015.

    The Sandiganbayan’s Sixth Division later denied his motion, saying “Section 5 of RA 10660 provides that the aforesaid amendment vesting jurisdiction in the Regional Trial Court shall apply only to cases arising from offenses committed after RA 10660 took effect.”

    Vitangcol also argued that that the facts charged in SB-16-CRM-1207 do not constitute an offense because it accused him of attempted extortion when there is no such offense.

    The court, however, said the offense charged is not for “attempted extortion” but for allegedly “demanding, or requesting or attempting to extort money.”

    Vitangcol filed a motion for reconsideration, which the court denied last May.

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