Right to financial privacy not absolute, says Manila court

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Friday, April 4, 2014


A MANILA court which disallowed Janet Napoles and other individuals linked to the pork barrel scam from accessing their bank accounts and other properties said a person's deposits can be inquired by government if there is suspicion as to its source.

In rejecting the respondents’ argument against the issuance of the asset preservation order (APO), Judge Marino dela Cruz Jr. of the Manila Regional Trial Court branch 22 said the right to financial privacy is not absolute because the anti-money laundering law was not passed to protect criminals from prosecution and punishment.

“Under the police power of the state, public interest i.e. the right of the government to protect society against crime and the right of society to demand such protection from the government is of paramount importance than individual rights, more specifically, the right to secrecy of bank deposits,” the order read.

The judge said there was nothing wrong with the bank inquiry since it was authorized by the Court of Appeals (CA) which issued a freeze order last year on the assets of Napoles, her family and dubious foundations, the whistleblowers and other individuals following a request from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

The AMLC then filed a forfeiture case at the Manila RTC after noting that the accounts and/or properties are linked to the scam of siphoning off Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) through ghost projects of Napoles NGOs.

Dela Cruz also shot down arguments that foreign currency deposits are exempted from the preservation order under the Foreign Currency Act.

He said the respondents overlook the “very purpose” of the forfeiture and anti-money laundering laws that the Philippines should not be used as haven for criminals who wanted to hide their loot.

“Since the bank inquiry has been allowed by law on dollar bank accounts/deposits to determine whether the same is sourced from an illegal activity, it follows then that a finding after a bank inquiry authorized by the Court that dollar/foreign bank accounts were proceeds of a covered unlawful activity—opens the said accounts to forfeiture proceedings,” the Court said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima backed the inclusion of the accounts of main whistleblower Benhur Luy and other witnesses in the freeze order, saying Napoles used them as dummies for her illegal government transactions.

“Those (accounts) are depositories of those funds from pork barrel of lawmakers being channeled through those Napoles NGOs,” she told reporters on Friday.

Luy contended that his assets are immune from civil forfeiture proceedings but the Court said his admission to the Witness Protection Program (WPP) only gives him protection from criminal cases.

The APO will remain in force until the Court resolves the case. (Sunnex)

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