By Abner Galino
A UNITED States federal grand jury has indicted Janet Napoles, who is currently detained in a Philippine prison, for allegedly laundering Philippine public funds in and out of the States amounting to approximately US$20 million through suspected “multi-layered bribery and fraud scheme.”
Five other family members of Janet Napoles, who are presumably US citizens were also included in the charge sheet. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified them as Jo Christine Napoles, 34, James Christopher Napoles, 33, Jeane Catherine Napoles, 28, Reynald Luy Lim, 52, and Ana Marie Lim, 47.
The said persons were indicted for “Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering, Domestic Money Laundering and International Money Laundering.”
The US justice department said four of the defendants — together with approximately 20 Philippines legislators and other government officials not charged in U.S. indictments — “converted to their own benefit hundreds of millions of dollars in Philippine public funds through the intricate scheme and then transmitted approximately $20 million from that scheme into the United States to purchase assets, including real property and luxury vehicles.”
According to the charge sheet, the said defendants supposedly converted money for their personal use from lump sum discretionary “Priority Development Assistance Fund” or PDAF granted to each member of the Philippine Congress. The said government fund was allotted to benefit poor Filipinos.
The money was allegedly paid to dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) controlled by Jannet Napoles in the guise of funding Philippine development projects.
It turned out, however, that the said projects were never undertaken and the money was diverted to kickbacks for legislators and other government officials, and for the personal use of the Napoles family.
The US justice department alleged that the approximately US$20 million funds were wired by money remitters in the Philippines to Southern California bank accounts.
The said money was allegedly “used to purchase real estate, shares in two businesses, two Porsche Boxsters, and finance the living expenses of three family members residing in the United States,” particularly Jeane Napoles, Reynald Lim, and Ana Lim.
In a recent press release, the US justice department said charges handed down pertained “to events beginning in September 2012 and continuing through August 2014.
“In September 2012, an audit discovered the fraud. In July 2013, the fraud and the U.S. proceeds were exposed in the Filipino press. In August 2013, Jannet was arrested by Philippine authorities and Napoles family bank accounts were frozen in the Philippines. Thereafter, Napoles and her family members attempted to quietly liquidate the assets in the United States, secretly repatriate most of the resulting funds back to the Philippines and to other accounts in the U.S. and United Kingdom, and disburse some of the funds to Jeane Napoles, who used the money to finance her lifestyle and open a fashion business,” said the US justice department in its press release.
“Even after Janet Napoles made a highly publicized statement admitting that she had bribed Philippine legislators in connection with these ‘ghost projects,’ the defendants attempted to convert the proceeds of this crime to their own use,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna.
“The efforts of the Philippine and American investigators demonstrates that there are consequences to abusing the public trust and we hope to deter such conduct in the future. To do this, we will work with our Philippine counterparts to secure the extradition of the defendants to the United States.”
According to court documents, approximately US$12.5 million in Southern California real estate has been seized by the United States Attorney’s Office and is subject to a civil forfeiture case pending before United States District Judge James V. Selna.
If the court orders the assets forfeited, the United States will work with Philippine officials to return the stolen funds back to the Philippine government.
U.S. authorities have received ongoing cooperation and substantial assistance from the Philippine government, including the Department of Justice, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, and the Commission on Audit, which responded to official requests pursuant to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the Philippines and the United States and through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Daniel O’Brien, Deputy Chief of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.