US jury indicts Napoles, kin for domestic, int’l money laundering
FOLLOWING an indictment by a United States federal grand jury this week, Janet Lim-Napoles will not be extradited to the country while she faces trial in the Philippines.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday, August 2 said Napoles can only be extradited after her plunder cases before the Sandiganbayan are resolved.
“The charge of money laundering against Mrs. Napoles and her co-defendants shows that there is a reason to believe that they attempted to retain the ill-gotten gains from the Priority Development Assistance Fund scam,” he said.
Likewise, Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra said that while they cannot hand over Napoles, the department “will extend all assistance to its U.S. counterpart in prosecuting the money laundering cases, and in ensuring the people’s money is returned in due time to our national treasury.”
Gueverra added, however, that the relatives of Napoles who were not facing charges in the Philippines may be extradited to the U.S.
Napoles and five of her family members were charged in the U.S. for allegedly transferring around $20 million U.S. dollars to purchase real-estate properties, luxury vehicles, and business shares.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California indicted Janet Lim-Napoles; her children Jo Christine, 34, James Christopher, 33, and Jeane Catherine, 28; her brother Reynald Lim, 52, and his wife, Ana Lim, 47, according to a release on Tuesday, July 31.
They were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, domestic money laundering and international money laundering from September 2012 to August 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Approximately $20 million of those funds were diverted to money remitters in the Philippines and then wired to Southern California bank accounts where the money was used to purchase real estate, shares in two businesses, two Porsche Boxsters, and finance the living expenses of three family members residing in the United States: Jeane Napoles, Reynald Lim, and Ana Lim,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a press statement.
Due to an extradition treaty signed in 1994, the accused might be tried in a U.S. court. United States Attorney Nick Hanna said they will work with the Philippine government to extradite the defendants to the U.S.
“The efforts of the Philippine and American investigators demonstrate that there are consequences to abusing the public trust and we hope to deter such conduct in the future. To do this, we will work with our Philippine counterparts to secure the extradition of the defendants to the United States,” Hanna said in a statement.
Unraveling the pork barrel scam
The U.S. Department of Justice’s statement noted that an audit in September 2012 first discovered the fraud before Philippine press exposed it in July 2013.
“Napoles and her family members attempted to quietly liquidate the assets in the United States, secretly repatriate most of the resulting funds back to the Philippines and to other accounts in the U.S. and United Kingdom, and disburse some of the funds to Jeane Napoles, who used the money to finance her lifestyle and open a fashion business,” the U.S. Department of Justice wrote.
Federal prosecutors claim that the funds in question were obtained through intricate bribery and fraud scheme, resulting in the implication of the defendants with domestic and international bribery as well as conspiracy.
Court documents show that approximately $12.5 million in Southern California real estate has been seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and is subject to a civil forfeiture case pending before United States District Judge James V. Selna.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is currently handling the case, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel O’Brien, Deputy Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section is prosecuting the case. The information regarding the name of the defense counsel and/or whether the Napoles family has any is yet to be disclosed.
The money transmitted to the U.S. over the two-year period is believed to be Philippine government funds originally intended to benefit poor Filipino people.
If the court deems the assets illegally obtained, the U.S. Justice Department will work with Philippine officials to have the funds returned to the PH government.
Janet Napoles, 54, is known as the alleged mastermind behind the infamous “pork barrel scam” — an issue involving the allocation of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
She is currently detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center in Taguig City and is on trial for five counts of plunder, graft, and other cases before the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court.
Five Philippine lawmakers allegedly benefitted from the scheme; three of whom are former Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada. Their cases involved the misuse of funds by transmitting them to non-existent projects of bogus institutions and NGOs.
During the graft trial of Napoles and Revilla on Thursday, August 2 at the Sandiganbayan 1st Division, Benhur Luy — Napoles’ cousin and key witness in the pork barrel controversy — that he transferred government funds to Napoles’ U.S. accounts, but did not specify the amount.
“We sent the money to her U.S. account through telegraphic transfer,” Luy told the court in Filipino.
He did not comment on whether he will be a witness to the U.S. case, but is scheduled to testify again next week against Revilla’s plunder and graft cases.
Luxurious properties, lavish lifestyle captured on social media
In a report by ABS-CBN News, social media posts of Janet Napoles’ daughter Jeane, spurred an investigation by the Philippine Bureau of Investigation (BIR). Photos from Jeane’s Instagram were published by ABS-CBN in 2013, which included a Porsche Cayenne and Porsche Boxster, a total cost of over P4 million.
Apart from the cars, Jeane also posted photos of herself with luxury items such as watches, purses, clothing, shoes and jewelry. Around that same time, videos of her 21st lavish birthday party at the Beverly Hills Hotel surfaced. The Napoles’ then-lawyer Lorna Kapunan defended that the family was rich because of their businesses abroad. According to Kapunan, the party was a reward for Jeane for finishing her course with honors at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise, a school that carried a $30,000 annual tuition.
That time, the alleged mastermind of the PDAF scam insisted that their wealth was from legitimate sources, and added that their family co-owned a hotel near Disneyland in Los Angeles.
Napoles’ daughter that time also owned a unit at the Ritz Carlton Residences in Los Angeles, with an estimated value of $800,000 to $9.3 million. She was put on trial in the Philippines for a tax evasion case involving the unit, but it was dismissed last December for lack of evidence.
Gueverra noted that the younger Napoles left the Philippines on July 27 before the U.S. charges came to light.
“Considering that an indictment has already been made in US courts, the U.S. government has ways of tracking down the defendants anywhere, including tapping the assistance of the Interpol,” Guevarra said of tracking Jeane Napoles’ location, according to a report by the Philippine Star.
Napoles’ two other children Jo Christine and James Christopher still have pending graft and malversation cases before the Sandiganbayan.