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CA lifts freeze on Ongpin accounts

Zinnia B. Dela Peña - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Court of Appeals (CA) has lifted its freeze order on about 100 bank accounts linked to businessman Roberto Ongpin just a month before the order’s expiration.

In a resolution dated May 7, 2013, the CA’s 5th Division lifted the freeze order it issued last Dec. 6 against the Ongpin-linked accounts and several other entities and individuals, including former officials of the state-run Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in connection with the alleged anomaly in the P660-million loans granted by DBP to Ongpin’s Delta Venture Resources Inc. (DVRI) in 2009.

The lifting of the order was due to the failure of the petitioner, Anti-Money Laundering Council through its counsel, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), to prove its case.

“In all the accounts we have caused to be frozen pursuant to our 6 December 2012 Resolution, we failed to see the links between the alleged unlawful activity and the accounts. We cannot rely on surmises and speculations. We need direct and hard evidence, otherwise we will be depriving the account holders of the use of their legitimate incomes,” read the ruling penned by Associate Justice Leonica Real-Dimagiba.

“Bank accounts are property rights and prolonged freezing thereof will already amount to intrusion, even violation of such basic rights,” the CA added.

Associate Justices Rosmari Carandang and Ricardo Rosario concurred in the ruling.

Ongpin’s legal counsel Rodolfo Ponferrada said the CA should have resolved the various motions to lift the freeze order within the original 20-day period in accordance with the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

The appellate court instead extended the freeze order for six months or until June 26, 2013 without resolving the various motions filed by the bank account holders.

Ongpin’s lawyers pointed out that the OSG and AMLC have been given three public hearings to establish their case but no link to an illegal activity has been shown more than five months since the freeze order was originally issued.

Under the law, such link must have been present and established even before the AMLC could have applied for a freeze order.

The freeze order, requested by the AMLC, involves accounts with 20 banks and financial institutions, including major local banks BDO UniBank, Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co., Bank of the Philippine Islands, and local units of foreign banks Citibank N.A. and HSBC.

Ongpin’s lawyers said they were constrained to seek relief from the Supreme Court due to the delay in resolving the matter and considering that their clients can no longer wait for the 6-month period for the freeze order to automatically lapse.

They maintained that there was no reason to freeze the accounts because there was nothing the government was seeking to recover as Ongpin had fully paid the loans from the DBP with interest well ahead of their maturity. Ongpin, a trade minister of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, used the money to acquire a stake in profitable mining firm Philex Mining Corp., which he sold weeks later for a 65 percent gain to Hong Kong-based conglomerate First Pacific Co. Ltd.

Ongpin, who was named the country’s ninth richest man with a net worth of $1.5 billion according to Forbes magazine, has investments in a wide range of sectors that include gaming, mining, real estate development, banking, telecommunications.

He is part of a consortium that controls the country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp.

In September 2012, the Ombudsman issued a resolution finding probable cause to charge Ongpin and several others in the criminal case filed by DBP against those supposedly involved in behest loans extended by the state-run bank. With Edu Punay

ACCOUNTS

ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING ACT

ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING COUNCIL

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE LEONICA REAL-DIMAGIBA

ASSOCIATE JUSTICES ROSMARI CARANDANG AND RICARDO ROSARIO

BANK

BANK OF THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS

FREEZE

ONGPIN

ORDER

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