PHILIPPINES - Philippines' Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday night said National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents were set to arrest Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother for the alleged serious illegal detention of Benhur K. Luy, principal whistle-blower in a 10-billion peso (US$230 million) racket the businesswoman had allegedly masterminded.
De Lima said in a text message to reporters that warrants of arrest were issued by a branch of the Makati City Regional Trial Court against Napoles and her brother Reynald "Jojo" Lim who had allegedly detained Luy for three months until he was rescued by an NBI team last March.
"NBI team on its way to implement arrest warrant," said De Lima. The offence is nonbailable, she said.
But Napoles was apparently tipped off because by 2:30pm before the arrest warrant was issued, her lawyers were already observed in court, an informant told the Inquirer.
Another Inquirer source said the NBI had supposedly traced her whereabouts in the south of Manila.
The rescue of the 31-year-old Luy was prompted by a complaint by his parents, Arturo and Gertrudes, who said that their son had been detained since December 20.
Acting on the complaint, a special task force of the NBI rescued Luy from an apartment owned by Napoles at the South Garden Condominium Unit, Pacific Plaza Tower, at Bonifacio Global City on March 22.
Upon his rescue, Luy, in an affidavit, said he had been working for Napoles' JLN Corp., which he said had set up several nongovernment organisations (NGOs) to strike deals with legislators for the liquidation of their pork barrel funds.
De Lima, in a phone interview, said state prosecutors filed the case in court on Tuesday after Prosecutor General Claro Arellano reversed the dismissal of the case by Assistant State Prosecutor General Juan Pedro Navera.
Navera had initially dismissed the case filed by Luy against Napoles and her brother. The NBI filed a motion for reconsideration but Navera affirmed his decision.
In a separate phone interview, Arellano told the Inquirer that he ordered a review of Navera's resolution. The review was conducted by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Theodoure Villanueva who found probable cause to indict Napoles and her brother.
Arellano said when Luy blew the whistle on Napoles' alleged involvement in the scam, there was a motive for her to send Luy on a "spiritual retreat" and restrain him there.
Luy said that prior to his detention, Napoles supposedly got wind of his plan to break away from the group. He said Napoles also confronted him about what she suspected were his personal transactions with the Department of Agriculture and was told to undergo an investigation.
He was then brought to Bahay ni San Jose in Makati City, where he was prohibited to use any means of communication. In the course of his detention, Luy said he was able to see his family only twice. He said his family appealed for his release, but this fell on deaf ears.
During the March 22 rescue operation, the NBI arrested Napoles' brother Reynald Lim, who complained of chest pains and was immediately admitted to St. Luke's Medical centre for treatment.
On March 23, the NBI recommended to the Department of Justice (DOJ) that both Napoles and her brother be prosecuted for serious illegal detention, or violation of Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code.
On April 15, Napoles, in her counteraffidavit, denied all of Luy's allegations. Napoles maintained, among other things, that JLN Corp. was in the business of trading goods such as marine supplies and equipment and construction material and never had deals with the government or its agencies.
Napoles said Luy was not her employee but rather her personal assistant who could conduct his own business.
She also accused him of taking out 5 million pesos in loans from a savings and loans on her behalf but without her knowledge, and of pocketing 300,000 pesos that she had asked him to deposit for her in her bank account.
On June 10, a panel of prosecutors from the DOJ recommended the dismissal of the illegal detention complaint after saying that it found that Luy had voluntarily stayed at the retreat house.
On June 25, Napoles filed qualified theft charges against Luy in the Pasig City Regional Trial Court.
On July 9, Judge Danilo A. Buemio of the Pasig RTC Branch 265 issued an arrest warrant for Luy in the case filed by Napoles. The offence was deemed nonbailable by the court.
Luy, however, remains free as he has been admitted provisionally into the Witness Protection programme. putting him under government custody.