Sandiganbayan affirms graft charges vs Napoles brother Reynald Lim

MANILA, Philippines – The Sandiganbayan Third Division affirmed on October 5 the 194 graft and malversation charges filed against Reynald Lim, brother and co-accused of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles, in connection with P900-million worth of diverted Malampaya funds.

The anti-graft court denied the two motions of Lim that sought to free him from charges as a co-conspirator in fraudulent transactions in 2009 which siphoned off the P900 million from the Malampaya Fund. Lim asked for the dismissal of all 194 charges and the deferment of his arraignment.

Presiding Justice Amparo M. Cabotaje-Tang and Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez concurred with the ponencia of Associate Justice Bernelito R. Fernandez which denied for lack of merit the two motions of Lim. 

What is the Malampaya Fund. The Malampaya Fund consists of royalties collected from operations of the Malampaya gas and oil fields in the waters off Palawan province. It is supposed to be primarily for energy resource development and exploration programs, but could also be used for other purposes as authorized by government.

In October 2009, the Arroyo administration authorized the budget department to release P900 million to the Department of Agrarian Reform as implementing agency to help the survivors of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

The releases were made on the basis of 97 letter-requests from local mayors who sought assistance for their constituents, but the funds were illegally diverted to non-governmental organizations identified with Napoles. 

The P900 million proceeds from the Malampaya Fund is said to be the biggest single contract cornered by Napoles since she was discovered to have diverted government funds to dubious NGOs. (READ: How the Malampaya fund was plundered)

What Lim asked for. Lim claimed in his motions that the Office of the Ombudsman made a mistake in the information it filed in December 2017. He said the government prosecutors were wrong to indict him as a co-conspirator solely because he is a brother of Napoles.

Napoles is now detained while being tried for multiple counts of plunder. Plunder is a non-bailable offense.

She is also facing multiple of corruption charges as a co-accused of former legislators and local government officials in relation to the so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam.

Lim also said in his motions that the Sandiganbayan had no jurisdiction over him because he is not a public official. He added there was not enough evidence to show that he conspired with the other defendants.

But the Sandiganbayan countered that when a private individual conspires with an accountable public official, he or she can be "held liable for malversation or illegal use of public funds or property.” In this case, Lim is not only a brother of Napoles but is also an "alleged co-conspirator with his other co-accused."

Who are the other defendants. Also named defendants in the 194 graft cases were former budget officials – then-secretary Rolando Andaya Jr and undersecretary Mario Relampagos – and former agrarian reform secretary Nasser Pangandaman and undersecretary Narciso Nieto, agrarian reform finance and management service director Teresita Panlilio, former chief accountant Angelita Cacananta, and chief administrative officer Ronald Venancio.

The other private defendants included Napoles’ children Jo Christine and James Christopher; former Candaba, Pampanga mayor Rene Maglanque, Evelyn de leon, Ronald Francisco Lim, Ronald John Bernardo Lim, Gerald Apuang, John Raymund de Asis, Paquito Dinso Jr, Rodrigo Galay, Alejandro Garro, Napoleon Sibayan and Winnie Villanueva.

Also charged by the Ombudsman was Ruby Tuason, who turned state witness in the multi-billion-peso PDAF scam. The prosecution turned down her request for immunity due to her inability to provide indispensable testimony that would boost the government case.

Early in the case, Arroyo herself was named among the respondents, but was cleared by the Sandiganbayan. –