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SC affirms junking of robbery raps vs ex-DOJ chief

naniperezBy Virgil B. Lopez From SunStar

THE Supreme Court (SC) sustained the dismissal of robbery with intimidation case against former Justice Secretary Hernando Perez before the Sandiganbayan in relation to his supposed $2-million payoff from ex-Manila Representative Mark Jimenez in 2001.

In a decision, the SC First Division slammed the Office of the Ombudsman for its “inordinate delay” in resolving Perez’s case, where the anti-graft body took five years and five months to indict the former Justice chief in court in April 2008.

“Such long delay was inordinate and oppressive and constituted under the peculiar circumstances of the case an outright violation of the respondents’ right under the Constitution to the speedy disposition of their cases,” the SC said.

Perez allegedly threatened Jimenez to include him in the plunder case against deposed President Joseph Estrada for his refusal to execute sworn statements that will implicate certain personalities in the short-lived regime.

Jimenez said he transferred $2 million from his account with the Trade and Commerce Bank in the Cayman Islands to Ernest Escaler’s account in Coutts Bank, Hong Kong. Escaler is reportedly Perez’s friend.

The money was then deposited to Ramon Arceo, Jimenez’s brother-in-law and Rosario Perez’s account at EFP Private Bank AG in Switzerland.

The Ombudsman said it took a while for them to file the cases because they can only secure documents that can prove or disprove Jimenez’s claim if the Senate ratifies the mutual legal assistance treaties with Hong Kong and Switzerland.

The Senate ratified the treaty with Switzerland in 2002 and Hong Kong in 2004. However, the SC said the Ombudsman’s dependence on the ratification of the two treaties was not “sufficient justification” for the delay.

“The basic elements of the offense, that is, the intimidation or pressure allegedly exerted on Congressman Jimenez, the manner by which the money extorted had been delivered, and the respondents had been identified as the perpetrators, had been adequately bared before the Office of the Ombudsman. The obtention of the bank documents was not indispensable to establish probable cause to charge them with the offense,” the decision stated.

The issue came to light after then Bulacan Representative Wilfredo Villarama exposed the extortion attempt of a “$2-million man” in a privilege speech on November 12, 2002. Two weeks later, Jimenez confirmed that Perez was the million-dollar man in Villarama’s exposé.

Jimenez filed plunder cases against Perez and his wife Rosario, Escaler and Arceo before the Ombudsman on December 23, 2002. The Ombudsman downgraded the charge to robbery, which was dismissed by the Sandiganbayan for unreasonable delay and violation of the respondents’ right to speedy trial.

Perez resigned in January 2003 because of the controversy. (Sunnex)

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