Sandigan allows ex-Czech envoy to testify vs Vitangcol
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Anti-graft court Sandiganbayan has granted the Office of the Ombudsman’s motion to present former Czech ambassador Josef Rychtar as a witness against former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 general manager Al Vitangcol III and five incorporators of the maintenance provider PH Trams.

In a six-page resolution dated Jan. 10 and released to the media yesterday, the court’s Third Division allowed the ombudsman’s prosecution team to present Rychtar as well as Josef Husek, board chairman and chief executive officer of Czech company Inekon Group, as additional witnesses even when their names were not included in the prosecution’s final list of witnesses earlier approved by the court through a pre-trial order (PTO).

Under the Rules of Court, only the documents and witnesses included in the PTO list shall be presented during the trial proper of the case.

In its ruling, however, the Third Division said the Rules of Court “can be relaxed in the greater interest of justice.”

“Indeed, the prosecution must be given ample opportunity to adduce evidence to prove its case considering that it is obligated to prove the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” the Third Division’s ruling read.

Vitangcol and five incorporators of joint venture PH Trams and CB&T – Wilson de Vera, Marlo dela Cruz, Manolo Maralit, Federico Remo and Arturo Soriano – are facing two cases graft and another case of violation of the Government Procurement Reform Act.

Based on the information of the cases filed by the ombudsman in 2015, Vitangcol “unlawfully” used his position in recommending the awarding of the maintenance contract to PH Trams in 2012 “despite having a direct or indirect financial or pecuniary interest” in the company.

Soriano, one of the incorporators of Trams, is the uncle of Vitangcol’s wife.

Under the contract, the MRT paid PH Trams $1.15 million monthly for its Line 3’s maintenance.

In its motion filed last November, the prosecution said the testimonies of Rychtar and Husek will be “significant and integral” in proving the cases against the accused, especially as their sworn affidavits on the supposed anomalies attending the awarding of the contracts to PH Trams were among the prosecution’s listed documentary evidence.

“Insofar as accused Vitangcol’s argument that the testimonies of Rychtar and Husek are hearsay and irrelevant, the court finds his argument premature as the intended witnesses are yet to testify,” the Third Division said.

The court also dismissed the arguments of PH Trams incorporators that the presentation of both witnesses will violate their constitutional rights to due process.

“(The accused) will be given the opportunity to object to the questions propounded on (Rychtar and Husek) during direct-examination of the said witnesses (and) confront and conduct a cross-examination of the witnesses,” the court said.

The ruling was penned by Third Division chairman and Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang with the concurrence of Associate Justices Bernelito Fernandez and Sarah Jane Fernandez.

Rychtar and Husek were scheduled to take the witness stand yesterday but the prosecution team, in a short hearing, moved that their presentation be reset to April 16, 17 and 18.

The prosecution informed the court that “some protocols” are still being finalized for Rychtar’s and Husek’s travel to the Philippines, especially as the former is now serving as Czech ambassador to Chile.

The Third Division granted the prosecution’s request, but with a warning that should Rychtar and Husek fail to appear before the court on the agreed dates, their presentation as witnesses is deemed waived.

Vitangcol is also facing another set of graft cases before the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division in connection with his alleged attempt to extort some $30 million from Czech company Inekon Group in 2012 supposedly in exchange for the award of a contract for the supply of train coaches.

It was Rychtar who first exposed the alleged extortion try.

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