Sandigan acquits Abalos in NBN-ZTE deal

THE Sandiganbayan Fourth Division has acquitted former Commission on Elections chair Benjamin Abalos from his graft charge over the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) - Zhing Xing Telecommunications Equipment Inc. (ZTE) Corporation deal.

The court said the prosecution failed to sufficiently establish the allegation that Abalos brokered for the Amsterdam Holdings Inc. (AHI) and the Chinese firm for a fee.

"Accused Benjamin Abalos is acquitted of charge against him for failure of the prosecution to establish his guilt beyond reasonable doubt," the Sandiganbayan decision read.

Abalos was accused of using his position as chair of the Comelec when he allegedly brokered for ZTE to get the contract to implement the NBN Project between September 2006 and April 2007.

Prosecutors claimed that Abalos received a fee or commission for his efforts despite prohibition on public officials from having pecuniary interests in a government project.

Abalos was accused of offering a P200 million bribe to then National Economic and Development Authority chief Romulo Neri and forcing AHI officer Jose de Venecia III to back off from the NBN project.

De Venecia, the president and general manager of AHI and son of former House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. claimed he was offered a bribe of $10 million to withdraw his challenge on ZTE's proposal.

In the decision, the anti-graft court stated that the prosecution failed to establish that Abalos brokered the signed contract between Chinese firm and the Philippine Government.

Abalos' other co-accused in the case were detained former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal Arroyo together with her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and the late Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza. (Sunnex)

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