Philippines seeks to claim US assets of scam mastermind

Philippines seeks to claim US assets of scam mastermind
Janet Lim-Napoles. Photo: Philippine Daily Inquirer/ Asia News Network

MANILA- The Philippines said Wednesday it is seeking to recoup $12.5 million (S$17.04 million) in assets from Janet Napoles, a Filipina businesswoman at the centre of a massive corruption scandal, as the United States attempts to seize her possessions.

The US Justice Department filed a civil forfeiture complaint Tuesday to gain control of assets purchased in the US with money intended for development and disaster relief in a case dubbed the "pork barrel scam".

They include a swanky Los Angeles condominium, a motel near Disneyland, and a Porsche Boxster Napoles allegedly bought for her daughter using aid funds.

Manila is helping its US counterpart in the effort to seize the assets, Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

"If and when they succeed, (Manila) will request that the money will be turned over to us," she told AFP in a text message.

The complaint filed in a Los Angeles Federal District Court alleged Napoles paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Philippine politicians and officials from 2004-2012 to get US$200 million in funds which were supposed to help poor Filipinos.

The organisations Napoles ran did not deliver the services, and she took the money for her own personal use, the department said.

Napoles, who is already in jail in the Philippines for kidnapping her cousin in 2014, has been charged along with family members in the corruption case.

Three opposition senators have been detained and charged in connection with the scam.

"It is US policy to keep no share of stolen money... It is possible they will turn over the entire amount to us," de Lima said.

She said a similar mechanism had been applied after a Philippine general was found in 2010 to have stashed millions of dollars in military funds in the US.

"We support this action on the part of the US based on their law," de Lima added.

Filipino officials are also concurrently seeking to recover Napoles' assets that have been hidden or invested in the Philippines, she said.

However, the cases are still pending in court, de Lima added.

Napoles' lawyer, Steven Uy, said he did not know how the US calculated the amount of $12.5 million, telling Manila radio station DZBB that some of these assets had already been sold.

"I know we have a legal team there to answer that. It will eventually come out in the court that they (Napoles family) legally own it," Uy added.

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