Businessman Antonio Tiu warned he faces possible plunder charges

Businessman Antonio Tiu during a Senate hearing on the controversial 350-hectare property in Rosario, Batangas.

Businessman Antonio Tiu could face charges in court if he fails to prove that he really owns the immense farm in Batangas province that witnesses have claimed is actually owned by Vice President Jejomar Binay, according to Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.

"It can be as simple as obstruction of justice, but it can be as complicated as plunder," Cayetano told reporters on Friday.

Cayetano said Tiu could be either covering up for Binay as the owner of the farm in Rosario, Batangas, or is himself part of a possible plunder operation.

Tax audit

This will come to light once Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares looks into whether Tiu has been paying taxes for his real-estate properties, including the 145-hectare Sunchamp Agri-Tourism Park, which is what Tiu calls the alleged Binay property.

Tiu, who faced the Senate blue ribbon subcommittee last Wednesday, said he paid P11 million (S$313,000) for the property that is worth close to P450 million. He admitted he had no title to it.

The businessman claimed he acquired the property from a certain Laureano Gregorio under a P446-million deal, but subject to certain conditions. He said he issued postdated checks to pay for the balance of P435 million.

And while he did not hold any transfer certificate of title to the property, Tiu said he purchased the usufruct, or the right to enjoy the use and advantages of the property.

5 times down payment

It was former Makati Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado who tipped off the subcommittee on the lavish estate, furnishing the senators with an aerial video and photos of its luxurious facilities. Mercado claimed the estate reached as many as 350 hectares.

Cayetano also expressed skepticism over Tiu's claim that he had spent P50 million to improve the amenities of the estate.

"Based on the report of the TV stations, Mr. Tiu said he already added P50 million worth of improvements since he bought it. But how could you spend five times more than your down payment when you don't have the title yet?" he said.

"What if Mr. Laureano didn't own it? So you were throwing away P50 million," he added.

No tourism park

Tiu last Thursday opened the estate, after hours of delay, for Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and a pack of journalists to tour.

Seeing its paved roads, manicured gardens and pavilions, Trillanes concluded that it was not a tourism park but a private resthouse of the Binay family.

Cayetano challenged Tiu to produce the land title, among other documents, to prove his ownership of the estate.

"So far he has not done so. And we have pictures, taken between 2010 and before the scandal, showing that the Binays continued to treat it as their personal playground," he said.