FORMER internal revenue officer Nieto Racho was on his way out of a courtroom after attending trial in Cebu City yesterday morning, when Assistant Ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago spotted him.

She immediately ordered his arrest.

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Judge Macaundas Had-jirasul of the Regional Trial Court Branch 8, who issued a bench warrant of arrest against Racho last year, right away scheduled his arraignment at 2:30 p.m. yesterday.

Assisted by his lawyer, Charisse Cabatingan, Racho pleaded not guilty to charges of violating Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code, or falsification of a public document.

The Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas had charged Racho over an unexplained P5.8 million in three Cebu-based banks. He did not declare the amount in his statements of assets and liabilities (SAL). 

In May 2003, former deputy ombudsman for the Visayas Primo Miro ordered Racho’s dismissal from government service. He was then chief of the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Special Investigation Division.

The anti-graft office found him administratively liable for falsification and dishonesty.

Atty. Cabatingan told reporters yesterday her client did not receive the subpoena, which is why Racho failed to attend his arraignment last Feb. 16, 2009.

Although the accused posted a surety bond of P24,000, Judge Hadjirasul already ruled last year the bond should be forfeited because Racho skipped his arraignment.

On March 7, 2009, Hadjirasul issued the arrest warrant.

Cabatingan confirmed yesterday that Racho was going to post another bond of P24,000 yesterday. She declined to comment further, while Racho also declined requests for an interview.

Judge Hadjirasul scheduled the pre-trial conference of the case in September this year.

Based on case records at the anti-graft office, the investigation against the tax official began after a news organization submitted certifications of Racho’s 1999 deposits in three banks, amounting to P2.93 million, P1.63 million and P1.22 million.

But an examination of Racho’s SALs from 1995 to 2000 showed he only declared P1 million as his cash in the bank. 

In his counter-affidavit, Racho did not deny the existence of the accounts, but questioned the anti-graft office’s authority to conduct the investigation. 

Racho said he has been in government service for 36 years with an unblemished record. 

He entered the government service in 1968, joining the Cooperatives Administration Office, and stayed there for five years. He then joined the Commission on Audit before he transferred to the BIR. (GMD)