THE Philippine Ombudsman charged with graft before the Sandganbayan former Metro Rail Transit Authority General Manager Al Vitangcol III and Liberal Party’s ex mayoral bet in Calasiao, Pangasinan Wilson De Vera for extortion attempt and persistence to force a foreign owned company into a joint venture scheme with a local group connected with some influential personalities at the Department of Transportation and Communication.
Specifically, Vitangcol and De Vera were charged with two counts of violation of Section 3(b) of Republic Act No. 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) — (1) for a US $30 million extortion attempt on INEKON, a Czech company producing light rail vehicles; and (2) for insisting that said Czech company enter a joint venture scheme with a local company where it turned out De Vera is an incorporator.
Aside from filing the charges before the ant-graft court, the Ombudsman dismissed Vitangcol from service after he was found administratively guilty of two counts each of grave misconduct, serious dishonesty and unlawful solicitation. However, due to his earlier separation from office, the penalty of dismissal was converted to a fine equivalent to his one year salary.
Vitangcol was also perpetually disqualified by the Ombudsman to hold public office, with forfeiture of retirement benefits, cancellation of eligibility and was barred from taking the civil service examination.
The extortion attempt and the pressure on INEKON to enter into a joint venture were exposed by the Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar and Inekon Group’s CEO and chair Josef Husek. Both have executed and signed affidavits where they alleged Vitangcol and De Vera’s unlawful acts. The affidavits were used by the House of Representatives in investigating the reports of anomalous transactions at the MRTA.
The Ombudsman said its investigation shows that Vitangcol, in conspiracy with De Vera, set as preconditions for INEKON winning the contracts for the supply of additional LRVs and maintenance of the MRT3 line in connection with the
P3.7 billion MRT3 expansion project in 2012, the advance payment of US $30 million and the Czech company’s entry into any joint venture with a group proposed by Vitangcol.
The two preconditions were both rejected by INEKON. Consequently, the Czech company failed to secure any contract with the MRTA.
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales said after considering the evidence which includes the statements of Ambassador Rychtar and Mr. Husek, on one hand, and those submitted by Vitangcol and De Vera, her office came to the conclusion that the failed extortion attempt was made upon the behest of Vitangcol. She also noted the statements of the respondents in response to the allegations were conflicting.
At the same time, Morales said, her office found that Vitangcol and De Vera conspired to force INEKON to sign a joint venture agreement for the award of the maintenance contract of the MRT3 line under a 60%-40% sharing scheme with a group which includes De Vera.
Meanwhile, the Ombudsman said Vitangcol is facing a separate trial for graft before the Sandiganbayan for the anomalous award of the multi-billion peso MRT3 line maintenance contract to PH Trams-CB&T joint venture, of which the brother of Vitangcol’s mother-in-law, Arturo Soriano, is an incorporator.