Readies estafa charges vs pole vaulter
Filipino Olympic pole vaulter Ernest John “EJ” Obiena faces immediate removal from the national team for allegedly misappropriating government funds over the last three years.
Obiena’s mother federation, the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association, announced this in a zoom conference with the media on Tuesday after receiving the recommendation from a four-man Administrative Committee that looked into the pole vaulter’s case.
“Obiena has been given all the chances to appear (for mediation). He did not (appear). We agreed to get his side of the story,” said PATAFA chairman and Misamis Oriental Congressman (second district) Rufus Rodriguez.
Rodriguez discussed the findings of the four-man probe panel, headed by board member Felix Tiukinhoy and their recommendations for Obiena’s alleged mishandling of government funds amounting 85,000 euros.
Rodriguez said that Obiena could have cooperated with the probe when they called his attention thrice last December, and once when he was summoned by the Philippine Sports Commission for mediation talks. Obiena declined all four summons.
In a statement, the PATAFA revealed: “In three separate occasions, the Administrative Committee directed Obiena to appear and testify before it. However, EJ Obiena, failed and refused to appear before the Committee and instead had a virtual press conference claiming he is being harassed by no less than the President of PATAFA, who was instrumental why he was accepted in the IAAF scholarship in Formia, Italy.
“The arrogance and blatant defiance of the legitimate orders of the Administrative Committee of his mother federation made EJ Obiena unworthy of being an athlete of PATAFA. This constitutes a wilful disobedience to the authority of PATAFA, who had been supporting him since 2014.
“EJ Obiena falsified the acknowledgment letters with the electronic signatures of Mr. Petrov. He also falsified the Contracts for the coaching services of Mr. Petrov for December 2019 to August 2020, and September 2020 to August 2021, which he emailed to PATAFA on October 9, 2020. The said contracts also bear the electronic signatures of Mr. Petrov.
“As discussed above, it is not possible for Mr. Petrov to have signed the acknowledgement letters and the contracts of services because he was not even aware that PATAFA and PSC were sending money for his coaching fee to EJ Obiena, and the fact that he did not receive any payment as stated in his signed statements dated October 4 and 7, 2021.
“The repeated attempts of Mr. Petrov to cover-up for the irregularities of EJ Obiena is shown by the fact that the later claimed that he was paid by EJ Obiena contrary to what he narrated to Pres. Juico and (World Athletics official) Mr. Sergey Bubka on September 9, 2021, and to his two signed statements dated October 4 and 7, 2021 that he did not receive any payment as coaching fee.”
The PATAFA discovered that Petrov was paid in full only last November, with the payment coming from three different sources — Italy from Obiena’s own account, Dubai from Obiena’s manager James Lafferty and Manila from Obiena’s mother Jeanette.
This prompted the panel to also recommend the filing of a criminal complaint of estafa against Obiena.
The panel also endorsed to the board that a complaint on Petrov be filed before World Athletics for the violation of the Integrity Code of Conduct and that his role as PATAFA-accredited coach be terminated.
They also recommended that businessman-sportsman Lafferty be declared as persona non grata.
The PATAFA is now set to provide a report to the PSC and the Commission on Audit.
The body also alleged that Jeanette Obiena misappropriated the P634,116.76, which she cleared from the PSC, on the pretext that this was reimbursement for fees paid to Petrov for the months of January to March 2019.
Rodriguez believes that there were falsified signatures that were affixed by the young Obiena when his reports were submitted to the PATAFA.
“They were falsified. Because by the time he gave those requested reports, Vitaly was clear that he received the payments (only) in 2021,” added Rodriguez.
PATAFA chief Philip Ella Juico stressed the importance of following the guidelines imposed by the PSC and COA on liquidating funds.
“We always go back to the point that liquidation should be in the form and in the manner prescribed by the Commission on Audit and the PSC. ‘Yan lang naman ang basehan, ‘yun lang naman and batayan,” said Juico.