NBI files malversation charges vs Lozada


MANILA, Philippines–Charges of malversation of public funds were filed Friday by the National Bureau of Investigation against Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada in connection with a P19.6-million fund supposedly intended for the jatropha project of Philippine Forest Corp. (PhilForest).

Also charged with the same offense at the Department of Justice was PhilForest vice president Gerardo Carino, said lawyer Allan Contado, chief of the NBI antigraft division. Lozada is the former president of PhilForest.

According to the NBI investigation, PhilForest and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Nov. 28, 2006, for the implementation of the Economic Productivity Act of Idle Public Lands through the Establishment of Fiber Crops and Jatropha Curcas I Plantations.

Neda provided the fund amounting to P19,630,923–also referred to as the “KR-2 fund”–but the respondents reportedly deposited it in a PhilForest savings account originally intended for the company’s operating costs instead of in a separate trust fund.

With the respondents’ alleged approval, PhilForest released P14,487,322 to the Philippine Army on Nov. 14, 2006.

Separate MOA

The balance of the KR-2 fund was invested with Insular Life Assurance Co., a private entity, and was not used in a PhilForest-related project, the NBI said.

Under a separate MOA between PhilForest and the Army, the latter was assigned to develop nurseries for fiber crops and jatropha in selected idle public lands for mass propagation, and to establish several hectares to showcase production technology and generate income for farmers.

It was later learned that the amount released to the Army was returned to PhilForest because the defense secretary apparently did not approve the agreement.

The money was redeposited into PhilForest’s savings account, the NBI said.

According to the NBI, the release of P14 million to the Army was a violation of the law because the implementation of the project was solely delegated to PhilForest and not to another government agency.

“A scrutiny of the MOA between Neda and PhilForest, as well as the project documents, clearly revealed that the project should only be implemented by PhilForest,” the NBI said.

‘Misappropriation’

“Furthermore, it is not clear as to how the project would be implemented by the [Army] considering that the project requires technical skills of an expert in agriculture and forestry,” it said.

Contado said the KR-2 fund was “misappropriated, considering that it was invested for a purpose other than the intended.”

“And besides, there was no board resolution allowing the transfer as well as the investment of public funds to a private corporation,” he said.

Contado also said the NBI investigation was prompted by allegations raised against Lozada during the Senate inquiry into the controversial National Broadband Network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

During a hearing, administration Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago portrayed Lozada as a self-dealing government executive with political ambitions who acted as an agent for businessman Jose “Joey” de Venecia III.

Trail of irregularities

Santiago cited documents purportedly showing a trail of irregularities that Lozada had committed as PhilForest chief, including a P5-million insurance policy taken out by the corporation with Insular Life, with his wife acting as the agent.

She rattled off a list of contracts entered into by Gabriel Multimedia Services owned by Lozada’s brother that did not go through the mandatory bidding, and questioned Lozada’s purchase of two vehicles purportedly for PhilForest’s use. (PDI)

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