MALACAñANG on Friday said Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar, who spilled the beans on an alleged $30-million extortion attempt by emissaries and officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), “lied” when he claimed that DOTC Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya shouted at him over the phone.
“You know I asked that particular question to [Abaya on Thursday]. I called him, and he never called Ambassador Rychtar,” said Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
He quoted Abaya as saying that the latter and the Czech official only exchanged text messages, copies of which the DOTC chief shared with him.
“They texted each other. I have the series of text exchanges between Ambassador Rychtar and Secretary Jun Abaya. At no point did he ever call him and shout at him. And I personally know Secretary Jun Abaya and the members of the House of Representatives know what kind of a person Jun Abaya is. He doesn’t shout,” Lacierda pointed out using the DOTC secretary’s nickname.
“And I can very well tell you that the mere fact that he claimed that Jun called him and shouted at him, that’s already not true,” he said.
In a television interview, Rychtar said he met with Abaya last year with the hope that the official would initiate an investigation of the controversy, which was first published by The Manila Times in an article written by the paper’s Chairman Emeritus Dr. Dante Ang.
Rychtar claimed that Abaya scolded him over the phone when the names of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s sister, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, and her husband Eldon Cruz were dragged into the alleged extortion try.
“It was after 10 o’clock at night and it was Secretary Abaya who called me. His voice scary, he asked me, ‘What’s this?!’ . . . I said, ‘It’s because you don’t do anything, any investigation, and now these people are doing something worse, accusing innocent people,’” Rychtar narrated.
But Lacierda belied this, saying Abaya would not have done that.
“The question yesterday [Thursday] was did Secretary Jun Abaya shout at Ambassador Rychtar? Secretary Jun Abaya said, ‘No, I never shouted at Ambassador Rychtar,’” he added.
Lacierda fended off Rychtar’s allegation that Metro Rail Transit (MRT) General Manager (on leave) Al Vitangcol enjoys the protection of higher authorities. The Palace spokesman said he even doubts if the President personally knows Vitangcol.
“I don’t even know if the President knows Mr. Vitangcol personally because he is an MRT manager. I am certain that the President knows the Cabinet secretary but the lower than the Cabinet secretary, I don’t know if the President knows the entire bureaucracy,” the Palace official explained.
He said Vitangcol’s participation and that of the other personalities involved would be known once the National Bureau of Investigation has submitted its investigation report on the incident.
“I am certainly telling you that there’s an investigation that is out there and the President has always said regardless of what kind of investigation where the evidence leads, we will go there,” Lacierda added.
Also, he said Wilson de Vera, a supposed member of the Liberal Party who helped broker a meeting with Rychtar and officials of Inekon, a Czech firm engaged in the supply of coaches, will not be tolerated by the Palace.
“I don’t know him [de Vera]. . . He was said to have run in the local elections,” Lacierda added.
“That’s why there is an investigation and we just wanted everything cleared . . . Let’s wait for the results of the [NBI] investigation,” he said.
Lacierda added that Rychtar’s participation in the criminal investigation could have shed more light on the matter.
“We have asked Ambassador Rychtar’s cooperation in the DOTC . . . I don’t know if there was any that was forthcoming from Ambassador Rychtar, but insofar as a criminal investigation, the NBI is looking into it,” he said.
In a three-part special report, Dr. Ang first revealed the alleged $30-million extortion try on Inekon Group in exchange for a contract to supply train coaches for MRT 3.
In February this year, Rychtar issued an affidavit detailing the meetings he had with Inekon Group board chairman Josef Husek, an Inekon executive named Haloun, Vitangcol, de Vera and a certain M. de la Cruz.
Rychtar alleged that Vitangcol left after they had dinner, leaving his emissary de Vera who sought the amount from Inkeon officials.
The Czech envoy said the amount was reduced to only $2.5 million when the Inekon officials refused.
The DOTC awarded the P3.8-billion contract for 48 new MRT coaches to a Chinese firm, CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co.