By Gil C. Cabacungan | Philippine Daily Inquirer | June 25, 2014
MANILA, Philippines–The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered an inquiry into the involvement of former Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol III and businessman Wilson de Vera in an alleged attempt to extort $30 million from a Czech train coach builder at an ambassador’s residence two years ago.
Vitangcol and De Vera will also be investigated for awarding without public bidding an $11.5-million maintenance contract for MRT 3 to a company, Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams), shortly after the failed shakedown in July 2012.
De Vera and Arturo V. Soriano, an uncle of Vitangcol’s wife, are among the incorporators of PH Trams.
In a statement, the Ombudsman announced that it had received a recommendation from its Field Investigation Office (FIO) to conduct a preliminary investigation and administrative adjudication against Vitangcol and De Vera.
An FIO special panel was formed in July last year to look into news reports detailing the charges hurled by Inekon Group CEO and chair Josef Husek and then Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar. A separate team was to probe the 10-month maintenance contract awarded to PH Trams.
Husek and Rychtar have testified that Vitangcol and De Vera asked for bribe money in exchange for granting Inekon the P3.7-billion contract to supply 48 coaches for the MRT 3 expansion. The deal was subsequently won by CNR Dalian of China.
Both Vitangcol and De Vera have denied the accusations. The former MRT chief has also filed a perjury complaint against Rychtar.
The FIO panel proceeded with its investigation despite Transportation Secretary Joseph E. A. Abaya’s decision to absolve Vitangcol. A similar probe was conducted by the House of Representatives’ committee on good governance and public accountability.
Last month, Abaya ordered Vitangcol’s suspension only after the MRT chief’s ties to PH Trams were leaked to the media. Vitangcol resigned on the same day.
The FIO has recommended the filing of criminal charges against Vitangcol and De Vera for violations of Republic Act No. 301, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and of RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Vitangcol also faced administrative charges for dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
The FIO panel reported that on July 9, 2012, upon the request of Vitangcol, a dinner with Inekon representatives took place in a restaurant in Makati City. Present were De Vera, Rychtar, Husek, Manalo Maralit, who was acting as liaison officer for Inekon, and a certain Haluon.
After Maralit informed Inekon representatives that Vitangcol wanted to continue discussing the MRT project after dinner, the group, except for the then MRT chief, went to the house of Ambassador Rychtar in Forbes Park in Makati City, they said.
There, De Vera indicated that Inekon would be selected as the supplier of the tram vehicles if the company would pay $30 million, they said. The amount would be later reduced to $2.5 million, they added.
The FIO report said that a day after the dinner, Vitangcol met with Inekon representatives at his office and “categorically asked [them] whether they agreed with the proposal of De Vera regarding the payment of $2.5 million in exchange for the award of the MRT 3 project.”
The report said Inekon representatives refused the offer.
In a sworn statement to the National Bureau of Investigation, Rychtar said of De Vera: “I think all of us considered him to be an envoy of Mr. Vitangcol since he behaved like that at an official dinner. He went straight to the point of suggesting the payment from Inekon to secure the deal for them. I think everybody was surprised with this suggestion of Mr. W. de Vera, which was $30 million.”