MORE “bombshells” will be dropped by The Manila Times source on the allegedly anomalous P1.2-billion helicopter acquisition project.
The source identified as “Joey” said he will reveal more details in the coming days, including alleged malpractices in the government’s procurement process.
“Joey” claimed that he was informed that a congressional inquiry would be conducted soon to get to the bottom of the alleged irregularities related to the acquisition of 21 refurbished UH-1D helicopters from Rice Aircraft Services Inc. (RASI) and its partner, Eagle Copters Ltd of Canada.
“Did you know that suppliers usually visit DND [Department of National Defense] officials’ offices for face-to-face negotiations? Right now, we are shifting to higher gear as we enter a more formal form of investigation and I am very much willing to present everything that is needed,” said The Times informant.
The source, who is expected to surface next week, also laughed off a six-page statement by Robert Rice, RASI president, denying The Times reports.
At the very least, “Joey” said the statement contained “misleading” and “contrary” information.
When asked in what manner he will drop the supposed “bombshells,” the source replied, “Just wait and see.”
Meanwhile, The Times learned that a bitter ownership feud between US and Australian firms over the 21 UH-1 helicopters hounded the deal and such could have been a ground to cancel the contract.
Documents obtained by the paper showed that the DND had been informed as early as January 12, 2014 by Rice himself about his problem with Wieland Aviation and Australian Native Landscaping, owned, respectively, by Peter Wieland and Patrick Soars.
In his letter addressed to Undersecretary Fernando Manalo, the chairman of the Special Bids and Awards Committee and the negotiating committee that awarded the contract to supply P1.2-billion worth of refurbished helicopters to RASI, Rice said he wanted to “explain and destroy any and all false claims by third parties regarding the ownership” of the 21 UH-1 helicopters.
Interestingly, the contract had been awarded to RASI by the Defense department barely a month earlier on December 23, 2013. This means that the DND may have been kept in the dark about the ownership issue.
Rice was clarifying a purported letter by Soars that reached the DND about his ownership claim over the aircraft that were acquired from the German government by Wieland, his partner, who later declared bankruptcy.
In a separate letter signed by Soars dated December 6, 2013 and addressed to Rice, the former informed the RASI head that he had invested $400,000 in Wieland’s firm, which had worked for the acquisition of the aircraft.
“I am now in possession of all the paperwork involving this transaction and my legal advisers have clearly pointed out that the Wieland Aviation group Australia… was the purchaser of the original 20 aircraft from Germany, is currently the end-user as per the US State Department approvals and the import approvals from the Australian government including approvals for the re-sale of the aircraft,” Soars said in his letter to Rice.
To underscore his point, he added, “I have reluctantly been dragged into this because you have not honored your commitment to settle in an amicable and reasonable manner my original investment. Further, I believe that the Wieland Aviation Group still legally owns the 20 aircraft.”
Despite these pieces of information, no action was taken by the DND on the matter and relied instead on “unsolicited” denials and clarifications made by Rice to Manalo.
Soars, it was learned, was seeking the return of his investment “with interest” from Rice, after the “demise” of Wieland’s business.
Government sources said the dispute over the ownership of the helicopters should have been investigated by the DND, which should have waited until all issues have been clarified before pursuing the deal.
But the department ignored the problem, which up to now is being litigated in US courts.
Recently, RASI filed a civil suit against its “partners” for intentional interference with contract before the US District Court of the Eastern District of California.
It asked the court to compel Soars and Wieland, both Australian citizens, and their companies to award RASI compensatory and punitive damages “to punish and deter [them]from engaging in the conduct,” and for restitution, attorneys’ fees and costs of suit.
Rice alleged in his 10-page lawsuit that after he sealed the contract to deliver 21 helicopters to the Philippine Air Force, his partners sent false statements regarding RASI, such as the claim that RASI was not the true owner of the helicopters and had no rights to sell the helicopters owned by Wieland.