Meralco execs charged with P889M syndicated estafa

CHARGES of syndicated estafa were filed yesterday by the Department of Justice against corporate officers of the Manila Electric Co (Meralco) for converting as income the interest earned by meter and bill deposits of subscribers in the amount of P889 million.

The charges were filed before the Pasig regional trial court after Meralco officials failed to file a counter-affidavit on the allegations of complainant National Association of Electricity Consumers (Nasecore).

Syndicated estafa is a non-bailable offense.

In a 31-page resolution, the DOJ panel of prosecutors found probable cause to indict Meralco chairman Manuel Lopez, and the 2006 board of directors composed of Arthur Defensor Jr., Gregory Domingo, Octavio Victor Espiritu, Christian Monsod, Federico Puno, Washington Sycip, Emilio Vicens, Francisco Viray, and Cesar Virata.

Also impleaded were Daniel Tagaza, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Meralco; Rafael Andrada, first vice president and treasurer; Helen de Guzman, vice president and corporate auditor and compliance officer; Antonio Valera, vice president and assistant comptroller; and Manolo Fernando, senior assistant vice president and assistant treasurer.

The DOJ said there is strong evidence sufficient to support a finding of probable cause for the commission of estafa, and that respondents committed “felonious acts.”

Meralco had acknowledged 10 percent interest on deposits made by its subscribers pursuant to Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) Resolution No. 95-21.

In anticipation of a favorable approval of its request for reduction of the 10 percent rate to 6 percent per year, Meralco had provisionally divided the 10 percent into 6 percent as “customer deposits” account and 4 percent as operating reserves account.

Its request was denied by the Energy Regulation Commission (ERC) in 2004. Meralco then reclassified the 4 percent portion by transferring the same to its “customers deposits” account which clearly indicated that the amounts are being maintained and held for purposes of complying with its obligations as mandated under ERB Resolution 95-21.

The ERC resolution as well as Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 (EPIRA), mandates Meralco to return the principal and fruits of the money submitted by its subscribers for meter and bill deposits.

Instead of maintaining the money under its “customers deposits” accounts, Meralco again reclassified on Dec. 31, 2006 the 4 percent portion of the interest which accrued from September 1995 to May 2003 by transferring the said amount to its interest and other income.

Nasecore president Petronilo Ilagan said that the conversion was illegal because the money was in the nature of a fund that should have been held in trust by Meralco for its consumers because it must be paid back to them. – Evangeline de Vera(Malaya)

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