Filipina tied to US$230m graft scandal surrenders

PORK BARREL FUNDS::The Philippine president’s office denied that Janet Napoles was given special treatment, after the fugitive chose to surrender to Benigno Aquino


Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - Page 6

A Philippine businesswoman who allegedly helped legislators embezzle 10 billion pesos (US$230 million) in government funds has surrendered to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, officials said yesterday.

Clad in jeans, pink sneakers and a hoodie, Janet Napoles strode into Malacanang Palace, the office and residence of the president, late on Wednesday, according to photographs released by Aquino’s office.

Napoles had eluded a nationwide police manhunt as details of her family’s lavish lifestyle fueled popular outrage in social media.

“Now that we got her, we can bring her to court,” Aquino spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.

“We are doing our best to further bring us closer to the truth,” he said.

Napoles faced arrest for allegedly detaining a former aide-turned-whistleblower to keep him from revealing details of the alleged embezzlement.

However, justice officials are readying additional charges that she allegedly connived with legislators to syphon off money from a development fund.

Lacierda said he fetched Napoles from a cemetery in Metro Manila on Wednesday night and brought her directly to the palace after her lawyer alerted the government that she wanted to surrender.

Lacierda said no special treatment was afforded the fugitive, but acknowledged that Napoles was not handcuffed and had even been given a 10-minute audience with Aquino, who assured her of her safety amid alleged threats to her life.

Aquino went with the group that took Napoles to the national police headquarters, Lacierda said.

Napoles’ surrender came three days after tens of thousands of Filipinos held a mass protest demanding her arrest and the abolition of congress’ controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund.

The fund is supposed to finance lawmakers’ pet development schemes, but critics say they are “pork barrel” projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.

Napoles allegedly siphoned off money through fake non-governmental organizations.

“We’re all after Ms Napoles. Everybody was so outraged. She has become the symbol of what we were so angry about last Monday,” Lacierda said.

The protest germinated on Facebook as people vented their frustrations. The online movement snowballed into a protest call, and on Monday up to 100,000 people joined the peaceful rally in Manila.

While Aquino had backed the protest, critics yesterday said they were suspicious of the circumstances surrounding what they called a “VIP surrender.”