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Ex-Sorsogon gov gets 40 years over fertilizer scam

MANILA, Philippines - In a 33-page ruling issued yesterday, the Sandiganbayan First Division said Lee was  found guilty of four counts of graft and sentenced to a maximum of 10 years for each case. He was also ordered to pay a fine of P2.591 million.

Also found guilty was former provincial accountant Raul Hernandez, who died before the decision was rendered. The court said it is awaiting a formal notice from Hernandez’s lawyer regarding his death.

The charges filed against provincial treasurer Ofelia Velasco was dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2011, the cases stemmed from the procurement of 2,133 liters of liquid fertilizer amounting to P3.199 million.

Based on the complaint, the fertilizer was purchased from Feshan Philippines Inc. in May and June 2004 without public bidding.

Graft probers said the defendants also resorted to a specific brand name despite cheaper substitutes in the market. The fertilizer was  also overpriced by P2.815 million.

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“The records will bear out that...Sorsogon resorted to direct contracting... upon the initiative of Lee,” the decision penned by Associate Justice Efren de La Cruz read. “It was all…Lee’s hand from the procurement to the payment of the subject fertilizers.”

The anti-graft court said Hernandez certified that supporting documents for the transactions were complete and proper. The certification facilitated the release of payments to Feshan.

The ruling was issued amid the dismissal of the other graft cases filed against former officials in connection with the fertilizer fund scamdue to the inordinate delay in the  investigation.

Among those cleared of the charges were former senator Lito Lapid, former congressmen Eduardo Zialcita of Parañaque, Antonio Cuenco and Antonio Yapha Jr. of Cebu and Abraham Kahlil Mitra of Palawan.

The purchase of the fertilizers was part of the supposed implementation of the Farm Inputs and Farm Implements Program of the Department of Agriculture.

The P723 million allotted for the program was reportedly diverted to the campaign kitty of former president  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections.

The ombudsman earlier cleared Arroyo of any involvement in the scam. It also dismissed the plunder case filed against former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante due to insufficient evidence.


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