FORMER Metro Rail Transit Line 3 (MRT3) general manager Al S. Vitangcol and private defendant Wilson T. De Vera have been acquitted of two counts of graft filed against them by the Office of the Ombudsman three years ago in connection to an alleged $30 million extort try on Czech company, Inekon Group A.S.
In its 20-page decision released late yesterday, the Sandiganbayan Sixth Division granted separate demurrers to evidence filed by the two.
A demurrer to evidence is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence presented to prove the allegations against an accused. Once granted by the court, it will result in the dismissal of the case and has the effect of an acquittal hence, not subject to appeal.
“After a judicious consideration of the evidence adduced by the prosecution, the court is convinced that the guilt of the accused for the crime charged has not been proven with the required quantum of proof at this stage of the proceedings,” the Sandiganbayan said.
Associate Justice Kevin Narce B. Vivero penned the decision with Associate Justices Sarah Jane T. Fernandez and Karl B. Miranda concurring.
Justice Fernandez, division chairperson, submitted a separate concurring opinion that highlighted the prosecution’s failure to present its key witnesses, including former Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar and Inekon Board of Directors chairman Josef Husek.
The court likewise gave no weight to the allegations of conspiracy between the two accused.
“In fine, the Court concludes that the prosecution failed to adduce sufficient evidence to support a verdict of guilt against the two co-accused Al Vitangcol III and Wilson De Vera,” it ruled.
Based on the charge sheets filed in 2016, the first graft case alleged that Vitangcol and De Vera demanded $30 million from Inekon in July 2012 in exchange for ensuring that the firm will be awarded the procurement contract for light rail vehicles (LRVs) for the MRT3.
The second case involves alleged pressure applied by the defendants on the Czech company to enter into a 60-40 joint venture with a group of persons for the maintenance contract of MRT 3.
Prosecutors claimed the demand for the $30 million was made by De Vera on the evening of June 9, 2012 at the residence of Rychtar. When Husek refused, De Vera supposedly conferred with Vitangcol over the phone and reduced the amount to $2.5 million which was again declined.
Vitangcol reportedly repeated the demand for $2.5 million the following day at the MRT3 office in Quezon City in the presence of De Vera, Rychtar and Inekon representatives but was turned down yet again.
During trial, however, neither Rychtar nor Husek were able to testify even if the prosecution was able to secure the approval of the Sandiganbayan to set up teleconferencing so they can both give their testimony from abroad and respond to questions from the defense and the members of the court.
Even if both submitted their sworn statements detailing the alleged extort attempt, the court swept aside the said documents as hearsay since neither affiant submitted themselves to cross-examination.
“Exhibits J (Rychtar’s affidavit) and K (Husek’s affidavit) were excluded by this Court for being hearsay. Jurisprudence dictates that an affidavit is merely hearsay evidence when its affiant or maker did not take the witness stand,” the court pointed out.
In her concurring opinion, Justice Fernandez said that had Rychtar and Husek testified, their statements would have bolstered their credibility and their allegations. Failing to do so, she noted that neither affidavit deserves to be given probative value.“The Court gave the prosecution several opportunities to present Amb. Rychtar and Mr. Husek as witnesses. However, despite having been given the opportunity, the prosecution still failed to present them,” Fernandez said.