Woman in $294m scandal surrenders to Philippine leader

Philippine President Benigno Aquino

MANILA - A Philippine businesswoman who allegedly connived with legislators to embezzle 10 billion pesos (S$294 million) in funds intended for development projects has surrendered directly to President Benigno Aquino, officials said Thursday.

Janet Napoles turned herself in to Aquino late Wednesday and asked for the president's protection.

"The president turned her over to the custody of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Philippine National Police director general Alan Purisima for processing and booking," Aquino's office said in a statement.

Roxas said Napoles, who had previously denied the allegations, had asked for protection from the president.

"She asked the president for assurance about her safety, so that not anyone can approach her or do what they want to her," Roxas said on ABS-CBN television Thursday.

The nature of the threat was not specified, and Aquino's office did not say who facilitated her surrender.

Aquino himself joined the group that brought Napoles to the police headquarters, Roxas said.

Her surrender comes three days after tens of thousands of Filipinos held a mass protest demanding her arrest and the abolition of legislators' controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

The fund is supposed to finance lamakers' pet development schemes but critics charge they are "pork barrel" projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.

Napoles allegedly syphoned off money through fake non-governmental organisations.

Aquino won the presidency in 2010 on a platform to end the pervasive corruption he blames for many of the country's woes.

Among his first acts was to work for the impeachment of a Supreme Court chief justice he accused of protecting his predecessor Gloria Arroyo from prosecution.

Arroyo is in detention and is now facing charges of massive corruption.

Napoles faced arrest for allegedly detaining a former aide-turned-whistleblower to keep him from revealing details of the alleged embezzlement.

However justice officials are readying additional charges that she allegedly connived with legislators to syphon off money from the PDAF.