Napoles’ latest attack on validity of P183M plunder case junked

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    THE Sandiganbayan has slammed the door on the latest attempt of the camp of businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles to reopen arguments on the validity of the P183 million plunder case against her and former senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada.

    Associate Justice and Fifth Division chairman Rafael R. Lagos penned the decision that denied Napoles’ Urgent Ex-Parte Motion asking the anti-graft court to order parties to submit their Memorandum of Authorities.

    The court rejected the defendant’s argument the case should have been dismissed at the outset because the information was void for failing to identify who the main plunderer was.

    Napoles had invoked the Supreme Court ruling in the plunder case against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that there should be a main plunderer in a plunder case.

    But the Sandiganbayan clarified that unlike the Arroyo case where all the accused were public officials without a clear allegation as to who was the ultimate beneficiary, such a condition does not exist in the case against Estrada and Napoles.

    It said there can be no confusion because there were only two public officials who were named co-accused in the case – Estrada and his staff Pauline Labayen – and it was the senator who had custody and control of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

    “The eyes are useless when the mind is blind. It is apparent that the information refers to Estrada as the mastermind of the PDAF scheme or the main plunderer. The main plunderer is a public officer,” the Sandiganbayan pointed out.

    Associate Justices Maria Theresa V. Mendoza-Arcega and Maryann E. Corpus-Mañalac concurred.

    Likewise, the Fifth Division held that the plunder law (Republic Act No. 7080) does not require the identification of the main plunderer as it recognizes that the crime may be committed collectively with all participants acting in conspiracy with each other.

    “Even if there was no express mention in the information that Estrada was the mastermind, it suffices that the Information used the words ‘conspiring with one another’ connoting a joint and several liability, negating a separate and individual culpability,” the court said.

    The Sandiganbayan said the defense failed to raise any new matters that would have prompted the court to revisit the details of the case.

    The Sandiganbayan directed Napoles to instead exercise her constitutional right by presenting her evidence to refute the charge that she conspired with Estrada and other defendants to defraud the government.