In a 14-page minute resolution promulgated on Oct. 23 and released to the media yesterday, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division ruled to dismiss Dichaves’ plunder case over the prosecution’s failure to establish that there is “probable cause” to subject him to a full-blown trial.
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Sandiganbayan junks Jaime Dichaves plunder case
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Businessman Jaime Dichaves, who had previously confessed to owning the controversial “Jose Velarde” bank account, was cleared of a plunder case without undergoing trial.

In a 14-page minute resolution promulgated on Oct. 23 and released to the media yesterday, the Sandiganbayan Fourth Division ruled to dismiss Dichaves’ plunder case over the prosecution’s failure to establish that there is “probable cause” to subject him to a full-blown trial.

Dichaves was among the co-accused of former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada in a plunder case filed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2001. 

The case was in connection with Estrada’s alleged amassing of a total of P4.1 billion in ill-gotten wealth through “commissions or kickbacks” in illegal numbers game jueteng, pocketing of the government’s share in the tobacco excise tax, as well as the alleged irregular purchase by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) and Social Security System of P1.85 billion worth of shares of stocks of leisure and gaming firm Belle Corp.

The ombudsman said the proceeds from the sale of 681,733 shares of stock of Belle Corp., the “commissions or kickbacks” from jueteng operations and the shares from tobacco tax, were all deposited to the account of “Jose Velarde” at Equitable-PCI Bank.

Dichaves, then a board member of Belle Corp., had confessed that he was the owner of the Jose Velarde account.

But the Sandiganbayan, in convicting Estrada in September 2007, ruled that the former president was the true beneficial owner of the Velarde account. 

Estrada was pardoned by his successor, then president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, just six weeks after his conviction.

In its ruling, the Fourth Division junked the motion of the ombudsman’s prosecution panel to adopt the documentary evidence and the testimonies of the witnesses it presented in Estrada’s case as the same evidence for its case against Dichaves.

The court said doing so would violate Dichaves’ right to confront evidence and witnesses against him, guaranteed under Article III, Section 14 (2) of the 1987 Constitution.

“In this case, considering that accused Dichaves was not present during the trial of former president Estrada, he never had the opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses and hence, he cannot be deemed to have waived his right to cross-examine them,” the Fourth Division said.

The Fourth Division, in its May 7 resolution, had declared that the prosecution’s evidence against Dichaves was “insufficient” to order his arrest and to hold him on trial. 

But instead of outrightly dismissing the case, the court gave the prosecution the opportunity to gather additional evidence.

In its new ruling, the Fourth Division said despite being given more than one year to strengthen its case against Dichaves, the ombudsman’s prosecution team still failed “to present additional evidence to support the existence of probable cause.”

The court earlier did not give weight to the affidavits of the prosecution’s three witnesses – Carlos Arellano, Federico Pascual and Dichaves’ second cousin Willy Ng Ocier.

The court said Pascual’s affidavit did not make any mention of Dichaves, while Arellano’s affidavit merely stated that he once saw Dichaves visiting Estrada’s house.

JAIME DICHAVES PLUNDER SANDIGANBAYAN
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