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Napoles, kin still awash with dollars — witness

Some 400 bank accounts belonging to Janet Lim Napoles have been frozen, but the alleged mastermind behind the P10 billion pork barrel scam and her family still have access to offshore accounts that Philippine regulators have not touched, a source said Wednesday. The source, an insider who is privy to the ongoing investigation into the pork barrel scandal, said whistleblowers under the protection of the National Bureau of Investigation said some of the accounts were in the United States, such as the one belonging to Napoles’ daughter Jo Christine at the Wells Fargo Bank in Irvine, California. The whistleblowers also produced documents showing that the Napoles family had money stashed away in other US banks, and that her brother, Reynald Lim, who is still in hiding, has an account at the Bank of America in San Diego, California. Western Investment Corp., a company said to be owned by he Napoles family, also has an account at the Wells Fargo in Orange County. One of the whistleblowers has submitted a sworn statement detailing how Napoles allegedly amassed her wealth by channeling the pork barrel of lawmakers to bogus non-government organizations. These funds ended up in those offshore accounts, the whistleblower said. The witness, the insider added, claimed that the money in those accounts was used by the Napoleses to buy a hotel in California worth $7 million and a $2-million unit at the Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles. Lawyers of the whistleblowers said the government should act now to have the foreign bank accounts frozen. Another whistleblower, who was tapped by Napoles as president of one of the bogus NGOs, reportedly claimed that the camp of the businesswoman had created new accounts in anticipation that their assets here would be frozen. The whistleblowers, Benhur Luy and Merlina Sunas appeared before the Manila Prosecutor’s Office Wednesday to submt their response to libel charges filed against them by Napoles. Wearing bulletproof vests, the two were escorted by armed men from the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program, when they showed up before Manila Asst. Prosecutor Philger Inovejas shortly before 10 a.m. Also named as their co-acussed were Luy’s parents, Arturo and Getrudes, and siblings Arthur and Anabelle. Benhur is a distant cousin and former employee of Napoles. Sunas was designated by Napoles as president in one of the bogus NGOs. A spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III said the Palace would not prevent Cabinet officials from attending any investigation on the pork barrel scandal. “If we are invited, I suppose we will attend,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said. But Lacierda immediately cast doubt on the claims of show business columnist Lolit Solis that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr., Presidential Management Staff head Julia Abad, and Mila Drilon, wife of Senate President Franklin Drilon, had dealings with Napoles in the past. “Are you asking me to comment? We will not dignify statements coming from a showbiz (personality),” Lacierda added. In an interview over radio dzBB, Solis claimed she was with Napoles in 2009 when a certain Jojo called up to ask for campaign funds for the 2010 presidential elections. Solis said she asked Napoles who that Jojo was, and the latter replied that it was “Jojo Ochoa” who was then among the movers of Aquino’s presidential campaign. In another interview, Solis claimed that Julia Abad and Mila Drilon attended one of the parties hosted by Napoles. While Lacierda did not comment on Solis’ claims, he said investigators will go where the evidence would lead them, even if the pork barrel scam goes all the way to Malacañang. He also assured the public that the administration will not influence the NBI in its probe to protect allies. Also on Wednesday, Napoles’ lawyer called on her former law partner, Justice Scetary Leila de Lima, to stick to the “real issue” of the misuse of pork barrel, instead of leading information to the media concerning the investigation. Lawyer Lorna Kapunan said developments in the case always end up with the media before she and Napoles get to know about it. “Why is there always a leak from the NBI? What is the nature of an NBI investigation? Is it confidential? If it is, then let’s keep it confidential. If it’s public, then let’s keep it public,” Kapunan said. “Allow us to be represented there, allow Napoles to attend so that she will know the nature and quality of their whistleblower evidence,” Kapunan added, complaining of the delay in the filing of formal charges against her client. Kapunan has previously insinuated that it was the Justice secretary who told the media of the impending issuance of an arrest warrant for Napoles. “The problem is everything is being told to the media. So we ask ourselves: Is this part of a grand scheme to condition the mind of the public?” She added that even if her client were convicted, this would not solve the problem of the misuse of pork barrel, officially the Priority Development Assistance Fund. In the House, a member of the independent minority bloc, party-list Rep. Lito Atienza urged the President to set the record straight and send a letter to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Senate President Franklin Drilon and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad telling them his stand on pork barrel. Senator Francis Escudero, meanwhile, said Congress would likely defend the constitutionality of pork barrel before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a petition to stop the release of PDAF. With Macon R. Araneta, Joyce P. Panares, Maricel V. Cruz  and Ferdinand Fabella
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