• Sandigan to try graft case vs Lapid, 5 others

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    The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan’s First Division found probable cause to try a graft case filed against Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid and five others in connection with a multimillion fertilizer fund scam in 2004.

    Upon filing of a charge, the court is duty-bound to determine if probable cause exists to proceed to trial and to issue arrest warrants against the accused.

    “After perusing the Information [charge sheet]and evaluating the resolution of the prosecutor, the evidence in support thereof and the records of the preliminary investigation attached thereto, the court finds that sufficient grounds exist for the finding of probable cause for the purpose of issuing a warrant of arrest against the accused charged in the instant case,” it said in a minute resolution dated November 9 and made public on Monday.

    But the court no longer issued arrest warrants because the defendants posted P30,000 bail for their provisional liberty on the same day (November 9).

    The Office of the Ombudsman filed the case before the court early this month against Lapid, a former actor and film stunt man who was the outgoing governor of Pampanga when the alleged anomaly took place.

    Also charged were former provincial accountant Benjamin Yuzon, former provincial treasurer Vergel Yabut and alleged suppliers–Ma. Victoria Aquino-Abubakar and Leolita Aquino, incorporators of Malayan Pacific Trading Corp. (MPTC or Malayan), and Dexter Alexander Vasquez, proprietor of D.A. Vasquez Macro-Micro Fertilizer Resources (Vasquez Fertilizers).

    The court also barred Lapid, Yuzon, Abubakar, Aquino and Vasquez from leaving the country “except upon prior approval from this court.”

    In a minute resolution dated November 6 and made public also on Monday, it directed the Bureau of Immigration “to hold the departure” of the accused.

    According to the Ombudsman, the purchased items were overpriced by as much as P4.268 million as the fertilizer was sold at P1,250 per liter when its real value was only P150 per liter.

    The purchase was also allegedly done without public bidding as required under the Government Procurement Reform Act.

    Further, the Ombudsman’s office alleged that the respondents also violated the procurement rules by resorting to direct purchasing “despite the availability of a suitable substitute offered at a much lower price in the locality.”

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