SC clears Ongpin over behest rap

The Supreme Court affirmed a 2013 decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) to unfreeze the bank accounts of businessman Roberto Ongpin and several officers of his real estate firm Deltaventure Resources Inc. (DVRI) in connection with the alleged P660 million behest loans from the state-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to purchase shares in Philex Mining Corp. in 2009.

In an 80-page decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the Court’s Second Division also affirmed the lifting of the freeze order on the bank accounts of former DBP officials over the same allegations.

It denied the petition filed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) seeking the reversal of the CA’s decision issued on 7 May 2013, ordering the lifting of the freeze order.

But the SC said the freeze order will remain on Boerstar’s Bank of Commerce Account 900000028241 as the CA earlier held that it “was probably related to an unlawful activity” as the account was used by Two Rivers Pacific Holdings Corporations to transfer the P2.1 billion balance of the purchase price for the 452,058,160 Philex shares it had bought from Goldenmedia and DBP on 2 December 2009.

One bank account held

“For these reasons, we find no error on the Court of Appeals’ part in unfreezing the accounts except for Boerstar Corporation’s Bank of Commerce Account 900000028241, the only account proved to be probably related to the loan transactions between Deltaventure and DBP. This account served as the depository account of the balance of the sale proceeds between Goldenmedia, among others, and Two Rivers,” the SC said.

The tribunal added the lifting of the freeze order should not affect any criminal case filed against Ongpin and other individuals in connection with the transactions.

While there were accounts found to have been involved in covered or suspicious transactions, the Court said the AMLC failed to show proof that these accounts were related to the alleged irregular loan transactions between DVRI and DBP.

The SC noted that a covered transaction involves cash or other equivalent monetary instrument valued at more than P500,000 in one banking day.

Based on Section 3 (B-1) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, transactions are considered suspicious if there is no underlying legal or trade obligation, purpose or economic justification; the client is not properly identifies; the amount involved is not commensurate with the business or financial capacity of the client; the client’s transaction is perceived to have been structured in order to avoid being the subject of reporting requirements under AMLA.

“The remedies of freeze order and order of bank inquiry are extraordinary, issued only upon a finding of probable cause that the accounts sought to be frozen or inquired into are related to any of the predicate crimes under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. The burden of proving probable cause always rests with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, never with the account owners,” the SC said.

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