Billionaire solon tagged as ‘flight risk’

FUGITIVE congressman and billionaire Michael Romero has been tagged a  flight risk because he is a  high-ranking officer of a local affiliate of budget carrier AirAsia.

Prosecutors said Romero, in hiding for three months now, was vice chairman of AirAsia Philippines and could easily leave the country to escape prosecution.

They asked the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 11 to issue a hold-departure order against the missing lawmaker, who has evaded arrest since the warrant was issued against him on Jan. 6.

Romero is wanted in connection with a P3.4 million embezzlement case involving his family-owned Harbour Centre Port Terminal Inc.

Manila RTC Branch 11 Judge Cicero Jurado Jr. earlier issued an arrest warrant against Romero, along with former HCPTI chief operating officer Edwin Jeremillo and cashier Felicia Aquino, for allegedly conniving to steal the money from the company.

Once the motion is approved, the court will order the Bureau of Immigration to put Romero, Jeremillo and Aquino in its hold departure list.

“From the moment that the order of arrest was issued, accused Michael Romero has not reported for work, and despite diligent efforts on the part of the private complainant to locate his whereabouts, with the help of the Philippine National Police, he could not be located,” the motion filed by private prosecutors Dennis Chan, Christian Chan, and Paolo Sicangco and public prosecutor Jesse Tiburan, read.

Romero has been marked absent since Congress resumed sessions on Jan.16. Congress again went on a six-week-long Holy Week break on March 17. Congress will resume its sessions on May 2.

“It must be noted that prior to the issuance of the order of arrest, accused Romero has been very active in the House of Representatives and is a member of 15 committees, even chairing some of them. However, after the order of arrest was issued, he has not attended any session and he is nowhere to be found,” the motion said.

Earlier, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and House Speaker Pataleon Alvarez said the House could not guarantee parliamentary immunity to Romero as it would have to respect and abide by the orders of the court.

“The immunity from arrest applies only while the Congress is in session ‘in all offenses punishable by not more than six years imprisonment.’ Since [the order] stated that no bail has been recommended, it is obviously for an offense not covered by the immunity,” Fariñas said.

Rep. Michael Romero
The Court of Appeals has also already upheld the validity of the arrest order against Romero, Jeremillo and Aquino.

The lawmaker has been embroiled in a bitter and protracted legal battle with his own father, businessman Reghis Romero II, for the control of HCPTI, which operates the Manila North Harbor terminal.

Jerome Canlas, the corporate secretary of Romero’s father, has accused the estranged son of conspiring with Jeremillo and Aquino in stealing corporate funds by issuing 18 checks—each bearing the amount of P200,000 for a total of P3.4 million—supposedly for “marketing expenses” and payable to the “National Food Authority and/or Felicia Aquino.”

The three were charged with qualified theft for issuing the checks on April 27, 2007 to nonexistent payees.

It was Romero and Jeremillo who signed and issued the checks, which in turn were cashed not by the NHA but by Aquino herself.

In January, Romero was also barred by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court from claiming ownership of HCPTI, a move that exposed possible challenges in the ownership of the Manila North Harbor Port Inc., which has been taken over by conglomerate San Miguel Corp.

Quezon City Branch 222 Judge Edgar Santos also ordered Romero and his affiliates, as well as their agents, employees and successors-in-interest to stop acting on behalf of HCPTI as shareholder or member of the board of directors of MNHPI.

SMC president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang said their group now controls a 78.33-percent interest in the contested port terminal firm. Before the transaction, MNHPI was 65-percent owned by HCPTI and 35 percent by San Miguel-owned Petron Corp. SMC eventually acquired an additional 43.44-percent stake.

The court said it was inclined to believe that the 2011 deeds of assignments, which were used by the younger Romero’s camp to represent themselves as the rightful majority shareholders of Harbour Terminal, were forged.

“Such infirmities create serious doubt at this stage as to the authenticity of the said deeds. In view thereof, the Court deems at this stage that plaintiffs R-II Builders Inc. and R-II Holdings Inc. (of Reghis Romero), as the majority holders prior to the execution of the deeds of assignment, have established clear rights to be protected,” Santos said.

Topics: Michael Romero , AirAsia Philippines , ‘flight risk’
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