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SC upholds ant-graft court's subpoena on AMLC in case vs Mike Arroyo

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC upholds ant-graft court's subpoena on AMLC in case vs Mike Arroyo
This photo taken Nov. 12, 2018 shows former first gentleman Mike Arroyo, husband of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, attending a Sandiganbayan hearing on the graft case filed against him in connection with the alleged sale of overpriced helicopters to the PNP in 2009.
The STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court has upheld the Sandiganbayan’s issuance of a subpoena on the Anti-Money Laundering Council in connection with the case against Jose Miguel Arroyo over his alleged involvement in the police’s 2009 purchase of overpriced, second-hand helicopters.

Arroyo is the husband of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was president when the deal was signed.

The SC’s Third Division has dismissed the Petition for Certiorari filed by the AMLC that sought the reversal of two orders of the Sandiganbayan that junked the dirty money watchdog's Motion to Quash the Subpoena Duces Tecum and Ad Testificandum and their subsequent appeal.

The high court said there was no showing that the Sandiganyan abused its discretion in the two assailed resolutions. "Instead of avoiding compliance with the Subpoena, petitioner must firmly perform its mandate as an investigatory body and independent financial intelligence unit," the ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen read.

Associate Justices Ramon Paul Hernando, Henri Jean Paul Inting, Edgardo Delos Santos and Jhosep Lopez concurred in the ruling dated Feb. 15, 2021, but made public only on Thursday.

People v. P/Dir. General Jesus Versoza

The petition is an offshoot of People v. P/Dir. General Jesus Versoza that looked into the police’s purchase of overpriced, second-hand helicopters in 2009 which were supposedly previously owned by Arroyo, according to the president of aviation firm Lionair.

Lionair said Arroyo deposited partial payment to its account with Union Bank, and to verify these, the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) presented an official of the bank. However, the bank official testified that the account was closed in March 2006, and since five years had passed then, account records were already disposed of.

The bank official suggested that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas or the AMLC may have records of the transactions.

The Sandiganbayan, upon the request of the OSP, issued a subpoena to Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad, then-secretariat of the AMLC, to testify and produce the said bank records of Lionair, but the council moved to quash the subpoena.

The Sandiganbayan dismissed their motion on March 28, 2017, and their subsequent motion for reconsideration. This prompted the AMLC to elevate the case to the SC through a petition for certiorari.

The petition “mainly argues that it [AMLC] is prohibited by law to disclose the relevant bank records of Lionair” because they are “confidential,” the court document read.

Specifically, the Council cited Section 9(c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act. “It explains that Section 9(c) adheres to international standards, which recommend that financial institutions and their officers be prohibited from disclosing covered and suspicious transaction reports, or ‘tipping-off’ that a case is being filed,” it read.

SC ruling

The SC found the AMLC’s argument untenable.

It said that the Council is not among the covered institutions "prohibited from disclosing information on covered and suspicious transactions."

The SC stressed that AMLC is "not merely a repository of reports and information on covered and suspicious transactions," as it was created to investigate the information it has to sue violators.

"It would be antithetical to its own functions if petitioner were to refuse to participate in prosecuting anti-money laundering offenses by taking shelter in the confidentiality provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act," it added.

The court also noted that the owner of the bank account, Lionair, submitted its written permission for the examination of its accounts and waived its rights under the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

"Thus, petitioner’s arguments invoking confidentiality should not be an issue, because the owner and depositor of the bank itself has already waived its rights," it said.

MIKE ARROYO

SANDIGANBAYAN

SUPREME COURT

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