24 August 2009

BIR-LBP Scammers Charged

Secretary Agnes Devanadera
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has finally decided to file criminal charges against the officials of state-run Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in connection with the tax diversion anomaly in 2002.

After 6 years of endless finger-pointing, they now realized that there was enough evidence to convict these greedy bankers and divest them of their ill-gotten wealth. This will really make one confident about government efforts to get rid of corrupt officials after the US$ 20,000 worth of lavish dinner for a worthless bunch lawmakers, doesn’t it?

"This is the biggest tax diversion scam so far. We have very strong documentation," said Secretary Agnes Devanadera (pictured in green above) of the anomaly that defrauded LBP some PhP 431 million in revenues.

The DOJ also cleared LBP former supervisor Acsa Ramirez, the whistle-blower in the scam who was wrongfully accused by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a participant in the anomaly. They should have done more for Ms. Ramirez, though, since she was implicated in public when in fact she was the one who made it public.

Memories are obviously very short amongst bigots. Is there no limit to how low can MalacaƱang officials stoop just to serve the obscene needs of several lawmakers, while ignoring the true heroes of this country?

President Arroyo only apologized to Ramirez a year later after she was cleared by the Office of the Ombudsman. How about apologizing now for spending millions of pesos for dinners in Washington, while the country is mourning the passing of Pres. Corazon Aquino and poor families are trying to scavenge for food to feed their malnourished children?

Those who are being named in the 60-page charge sheet to deflect the issue on the President's lavish dinner were BIR officers Zenaida Marciales, Gina Villasoto, Eleanor Litao, Bernadette Ongsoto, David Agpalo, Zenaida Almirez, Pablito Berena and Esther Mendoza. They are facing charges for violation of the provisions of the Anti-Money Laundering Act. Also charged were Landbank’s Artemio San Juan, Catalina Villegas, Allan Diaz, and Rival Lazanas, as well as officials of several private companies.

Aside from violations of the anti-money laundering law, the suspects are also facing charges of falsification and use of falsified documents punishable with up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

"The modus operandi starts with accounts under fictitious names opened in the bank. Once the checks of large taxpayers intended for tax payments fall into the hands of the group through messengers, the group copies the amounts thereon on dummy checks, which it deposits in the fictitious accounts with the account holder as payee," she said.

To avoid detection, Devanadera said the syndicate manufactures fake LBP official receipts for the messenger to bring back to the taxpayer along with the latter tax returns, which has been stamped with fake validation marks to make it appear that the checks were paid to LBP and the tax returns were filed with the BIR.

"A scam was indeed perpetrated... the evidence obtained by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) during its investigation clearly shows that the PhP 203,791,458 tax payments of the large tax payers intended for the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) were diverted to eight accounts in LBP Binangonan Branch owned by four fictitious persons," she said.

Devanadera also disclosed that the syndicate was also able to divert to their personal accounts another PhP 228 million in tax payments.

However, to those who are expecting a quick trial and swift sentencing, do not hold your breath just yet.

If the syndicate managed to funnel funds covered by switching checks of large taxpayers, there is no telling how much their family and cohorts are funneling right now to the hands of authorities with strong connection in MalacaƱang to lessen their chances of conviction.