Panel formed to probe Enrile

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Friday, December 20, 2013

MANILA -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has designated a seven-man investigating team that will look into Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s allegation that her wedding godfather, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, is involved in illegal activities.

Undersecretary Jose Justiniano was named chairman of the special task force. He will be assisted by Assistant State Prosecutors Niven Canlapan and Nolibien Quiambao, State Counsel IV Adonis Sulit, State Counsel I Charles Romulus Cambaliza and lawyers Jonathan Mengullo and Catherine Camposano of the National Bureau Investigation (NBI) anti-graft division.

The team, which has three months to complete its job, will probe the alleged illegal importation of vehicles through the Cagayan Economic Special Economic Zone and Freeport (CSEZFP) in collusion with Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) Administrator Jose Mari Ponce and James Kocher.

Kocher is Enrile’s son-in-law who runs an automobile import business. He is allegedly involved in smuggling, according to Department Order 994 issued by De Lima on Wednesday.

Enrile was also tagged in online gambling operations in CSEZFP. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Enrile was accused of working for the issuance of “master license” to First Cagayan License and Resort Corp, which later allowed foreign entities to engage in online gambling for seven years.

Meridien Vista Gaming Corp., meanwhile, was given the opportunity to operate jai-alai and betting stations in the Cagayan Freeport. Enrile is the author of the law (Republic Act 7922) that created the Ceza.

Rounding out the probe list were Enrile’s supposed illegal logging activities through San Jose Lumber whose license expired in 2007, submission of falsified Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) and other related criminal offenses.

De Lima said the team will evaluate if the evidence gathered would merit the launching of a preliminary investigation, request for a probe by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and filing of forfeiture cases for ill-gotten wealth in coordination with the Office of the Solicitor General.

The group was also authorized to tap other NBI agents to assist in the investigation.

Enrile has since denied Santiago’s allegations in her privilege speech on December 4. He said his only interest in Ceza is to develop the place to give jobs to the people of Cagayan, his home province.

Santiago wrote de Lima the following day, requesting her to order the NBI to investigate Enrile for various crimes.

Enrile is already facing plunder before the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly receiving P172.8 million in kickbacks from businesswoman Janet Napoles for sponsoring ghost projects under the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). (Sunnex)

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