MANILA -- Former National Economic and Development Authority Director Romulo Neri pleaded not guilty Friday to the charges filed against him in connection with the botched $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN)-ZTE deal.

Neri, who faced the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division for his arraignment, said he is not guilty of the graft charges filed against him but made no further comment to the media.

He arrived at the Sandiganbayan 45 minutes earlier than the scheduled 8:30 a.m. Friday hearing. He is again set to appear for a pre-trial hearing on August 20.

Neri was linked to anomalies in the NBN-ZTE controversy, as he approved the deal despite knowing some irregularities on it.

He is facing the graft charges along with former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos, who was accused of brokering the Chinese ZTE firm and bribing Neri. (Sunnex)