Sandiganbayan dismisses graft case vs Romulo Neri over NBN-ZTE deal

MANILA, Philippines – The anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has dismissed the graft case against former socieconomic planning secretary Romulo Neri in connection with the botched national broadband network project of the Arroyo administration.

In its resolution, the Sandiganbayan’s Fifth Division said, “Here, we find the evidence of the prosecution insufficient to sustain the charges or justify a verdict of guilt.”

“The prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proving that accused Neri violated  Section 3(h) or RA 3019 by proof beyond reasonable doubt for its failure to satisfactorily establish that said accused had financial or pecuniary interest, directly or indirectly, in the subject NBN-ZTE deal,” it added.

Neri was earlier found guilty of simple misconduct in connection with the deal. 

The aborted $329-million national broadband network deal with ZTE Corporation of China was one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In May, the Sandiganbayan's 4th Division acquitted former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair Benjamin Abalos of graft charges in connection with the deal.

State prosecutors had accused Abalos of abusing his position as Comelec chairman when he brokered for ZTE to get the contract for the national government’s National Broadband Network project between September 2006 and April 2007.

Abalos allegedly received $130 million in commission from ZTE, thereby bloating the original contract cost to $329 million.

He was also accused of offering a P200-million bribe to Neri, who was then National Economic and Development Authority chief, for the approval of the project; and $10 million to businessman Joey de Venecia for his Amsterdam Holdings Incorporated (AHI), a competing contractor, to drop its bid for the project.

Whistleblowers Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada and Joey de Venecia had linked Mrs Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, to the deal.

The Arroyos have pending graft cases before the Sandiganbayan in connection with the NBN-ZTE deal. –