THE Department of Justice charged businessman Robert John Sobrepeña with the crime of estafa with findings the state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) suffered damages in the amount of P1.150 billion.

"We laud the DOJ in this breakthrough decision to make fraudulent businesses accountable to the people and to protect the interest of the public from fraudulent schemes," BCDA president and CEO Arnel Paciano Casanova said.

In a resolution penned by Catherina Isabel Caeg with recommending approval by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon and approved by Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, the prosecutors found probable cause to charge Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJHDevCo) chairman Robert John Sobrepeña with the crime of estafa under Article 315 (2) (a) of the Revised Penal Code.

Under the terms of the 1996 Lease Agreement, CJHDevCo was supposed to pay an annual rent to the BCDA of P425 million or five percent (5 percent) of gross revenues for the first five years of the lease, whichever was higher. This means for the years 1998, 1999, and 2000, the government was supposed to receive P1.275 billion in rentals.

In 1998, Sobrepeña claimed CJHDevCo's operations were financially adversely affected by several factors and its actual losses amount to a total of P1.445 billion and were increasing daily. This led to the first restructured agreement in 2000. CJHDevCo, however, failed to declare cash dividends totaling P928 million in the years 1998, 1999, and 2000.

The DOJ resolution stated, "Data shown in the financial statements of CJHDevco discloses that in 1998, CJHDevco could have very well met its rental obligation of Four Hundred Twenty-Five Million One Thousand Three Hundred and Seventy-Eight Pesos (P425,001,378.00) had it chosen to do so as seen by its acts of disposing Six Hundred Seventy-Four Million Sixty-Five Thousand Two Hundred and Ninety Pesos (P674,065,290.00) by way of dividends…"

The resolution further stated, "In 1999, as revealed in CJHDevco's financial statement, CJHDevco was able to dispose of Two Hundred Fifty Million Pesos (P250,000,000.00) representing the amount declared as dividends to its stockholders…In 2000, it can be seen that CJHDevco also readily disposed of Three Hundred Fifty Million Pesos (P350,000,000.00) again in declaring dividends to its stock holders."

According to the resolution, "The total amount utilized by CJHDevco in declaring dividends, extending cash advances, and assignment of shares during the years 1998,1999, and 2000 is One Billion Two Hundred Seventy-Four Million Sixty-Five Thousand Two Hundred and Ninety Pesos (P1,274,065,290.00)."

The DOJ resolution pointed out, “CJHDevco deliberately chose not to perform its rental obligations to BCDA despite knowledge of such and existence of retained earnings and other revenue.”

The 36-page DOJ resolution also stated, “BCDA suffered damage and prejudice in the amount of One Billion One Hundred Fifty Million Four Thousand One Hundred and Thirty-Four Pesos (P1,150,004,134.00) which represents the difference between the amount it was entitled to receive under the lease agreement had it insisted on the performance of CJHDevCo’s rental obligations…"

The resolution further explained, “BCDA was induced to enter into the 2000 MOA [First Restructured Agreement] because of false pretenses on the part of CJHDevCo. Were it not for such false pretenses on the part of CJHDevCo, BCDA would not have entered into the 2000 MOA and would have received the amounts due under the lease agreement for the years 1998, 1999, and 2000.”

Casanova said the DOJ’s ruling puts into question all of CJHDevCo’s former Memoranda of Agreement with BCDA as well as all other agreements CJHDevCo entered into with its locators, buyers and business partners.

“While people languish in poverty we cannot allow unscrupulous businessmen to take advantage. As public servants, BCDA is committed to bring them to justice," Casanova said.

He said BCDA’s serious efforts to remove fraudulent businesses is a step in the right direction to promote transparent and accountable business practices and at the same time leveling the playing field so that responsible businessmen have a chance to grow.

“This is our effort in leveling the playing field. We uphold contracts and make those who breach accountable for their actions,” he said.

Casanova also said the difficult and challenging efforts being undertaken by the BCDA to collect from the Sobrepeña-led CJHDevCo is for the people of the Cordilleras and Baguio City.

“We are now calling the public to support our efforts against the culture of impunity. We are ending the period of impunity and we usher the new age of accountability and transparency — part of the initiatives of President Aquino’s matuwid na daan,” he added.

The Sobrepeña-led CJHDevCo has accumulated lease payment arrears to the BCDA in the amount of a staggering P3.4-B, of which, 25 percent or P850-M belongs to the people of Baguio and the surrounding municipalities. (PR)