Cagayan ex-governor walks on graft charges

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    FORMER Cagayan governor Edgar Lara has been acquitted by the Sandiganbayan of two counts of graft charges filed against him in 2011 by the Office of the Ombudsman.

    Sixth Division Associate Justice Karl B. Miranda penned the 67-page decision promulgated last February 19 which declared that the evidence presented by government prosecutors did not amount to proof beyond reasonable doubt that was required to convict the accused.

    Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez and Kevin Narce B. Vivero concurred.

    In the first graft case, Lara was accused of giving favors to Preferred Ventures Inc. (PVI) by engaging it in 2001 as financial consultant or advisor to the provincial government to raise funding for projects through a bond flotation.

    Prosecutors said PVI was eventually paid P625 million in consultancy fees even in the absence of public bidding, prior authority from the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, appropriation for hiring its services, and certification of availability of funds for the purpose.

    The second graft case involved allegations that Asset Builders Corp. (ABC) was given unwarranted benefits and preference when it was awarded the P213.8 million contract for the planning, design, site development, and construction of the Cagayan Town Center (later on called Paseo Reale Mall) on September 8, 2003.

    In the indictment, the Ombudsman said again there was no public bidding or prior authorization from the provincial board.

    Government auditors also found the contractor was paid more than the contract price to the tune of P16 million for “unnecessary and excessive” installations and “unaccounted materials.”