www.gmanetwork.com | April 2, 2014
Czech Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Rychtar said influential people are protecting Metro Rail Transit (MRT) general manager Al Vitangcol, alleged mastermind of a purported attempt to extort $30 million from a Czech firm in exchange for a supply contract.
"If you follow all the programs arising now in the MRT, you can see that Vitangcol has a very firm position. Nothing can move his chair, so I think that he is covered, he is protected,” he said.
Rychtar, in July of last year, first revealed to the Philippine Star the supposed $30-million extortion try on Czech-based company Inekon Group in exchange for the awarding of a contract to supply train coaches for MRT 3.
“In the discussion, they [Vitangcol's emissaries] had to consult the things to only this person who can decide...Mr. Vitangcol is the head of the MRT...Actually, I think he's behind this corruption,” Rychtar said in an exclusive interview with GMA News' “24 Oras” which aired Wednesday evening.
In his affidavit submitted in February of this year to the House of Representatives, a copy of which was earlier obtained by GMA News, Rychtar said the alleged extortion attempt first took place over dinner on July 9, 2012.
He said that at the dinner were Inekon Group board chairman Josef Husek, an Inekon executive named Haloun, Vitangcol, a businessman named Wilson De Vera, and a certain M. de la Cruz.
In his affidavit, Rychtar said that Vitangcol left after the dinner, while the group headed to Rychtar's residence to continue the discussion about the MRT project.
That was when, Rychtar said, De Vera attempted to extort the Inekon officials. Rychtar had earlier asserted that De Vera was acting as Vitangcol's emissary.
Rychtar showed to GMA News the area in his house where the alleged extortion attempt happened.
“What I understood from the following discussion was that Mr. Husek tried to explain to Mr. De Vera that this request is so high that it could mean that the price of their product would have to rise significantly,” Rychtar said in the affidavit.
But after making two phone calls, Rychtar said De Vera went back inside the house and lowered the amount to $2.5 million.
“Finally, the Czech company did not participate in the bidding process due to its unclear terms of reference and suspicious circumstances around the bidding process itself,” Rychtar said.
The Department of Transportation and Communications last year awarded the P3.8-billion contract for 48 new MRT coaches to CNR Dalian Locomotive & Rolling Stock Co. of China.
Rychtar said he reported the alleged extortion attempt to DOTC Secretary Jun Abaya but the latter allegedly did not act on the case.
“It was April 11 , and the meeting lasted for two hours. It was a long meeting. He [Abaya] asked me questions...I was sure that I speak with the proper person and that he will start an investigation because it happened in his department, in his institution, but nothing happened after that event,” Rychtar said.
Rychtar said Abaya even scolded him over the phone as the President's sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and her husband Eldon Cruz were now being dragged into the alleged extortion anomaly.
“It was after 10 o'clock at night and it was Secretary Abaya who called me. His voice scary, he asked me 'What's this?!'...I said, 'It's because you don't do anything, any investigation and now these people are doing something worse, accusing innocent people',” Rychtar recounted.
DOTC spokesperson Miguel Sagcal confirmed that a meeting between Abaya and Rychtar indeed transpired last year.
But Sagcal questioned the timing of Rychtar's meeting with Abaya if the alleged extortion happened in July of 2012.
“Sinasabi niyang Abril nag-report siya kay Secretary Abaya...Bakit tumagal. Inintay niya pa ang bidding bago lumapit sa amin,” Sagcal said.
He however said that the DOTC is willing to open another investigation into the case.
“Handa naman ang DOTC na tumanggap ng ebidensiya lalo na kung galing sa kanya. Titignan namin kung pwede na ito para magbukas ng isa pang imbestigasyon,” Sagcal said.
The DOTC had earlier dismissed the administrative case against Vitangcol in connection with the alleged extortion for lack of evidence.
A separate investigation on the case is also being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Rychtar said the NBI had already informed him that its probe is almost finished.
“I want only justice and truth. I want business to run according to normal, fair conditions. I'm convinced that I have the truth behind me,” Rychtar said.
GMA News tried to get the side of Vitangcol and Abaya but they were not responding to calls and text messages, “24 Oras” reported.
Vitangcol, in a letter sent to DOTC, had earlier denied involvement in the alleged extortion attempt.— Elizabeth Marcelo/BM/ELR/HS, GMA News