Supreme Court orders AMLC to disclose bank records in 2009 chopper purchase case

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THE SUPREME Court has affirmed the anti-graft tribunal’s order for the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to disclose bank records related to the Philippine National Police’s procurement of secondhand choppers in 2009.

The case involves former first gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, who was charged with plunder for his involvement in the PNP’s purchase of helicopters that he allegedly owned.

The High Court said that it dismissed AMLC’s motions asking it to void and review the Sandiganbayan’s subpoena compelling the anti-money laundering council to disclose its records of Lionair, Inc. (Lionair), which sold the helicopters as brand new even if they were already used.

“In sum, there was no showing that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in issuing the Subpoena Duces Tecum and Ad Testificandum and denying petitioner’s Motion to Quash and Motion for Reconsideration,” the court said in a press release on Thursday.

“Instead of avoiding compliance with the Subpoena, petitioner must firmly perform its mandate as an investigatory body and independent financial intelligence unit,” the Supreme Court said.

The high tribunal said the AMLC had argued that whatever information it has on Lionair’s bank account is confidential under Republic Act No. 9160, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

However, the Sandiganbayan denied the AMLC’s motions, ruling that its misgivings on the disclosure of the bank records were outweighed by the importance of the documents.

“The High Court found the AMLC’s argument untenable,” it said.

The Supreme Court further said that based on RA 9160, the AMLC “is not one of the covered institutions prohibited from disclosing information on covered and suspicious transactions.”

The rationale behind the prohibition does not apply to the AMLC, it added.

The Court said that “the criminal prosecution of anti-money laundering offenses would be unduly hampered if petitioners were prohibited from disclosing information regarding covered and suspicious transactions.”

In a July 11, 2011 press release from the Department of Interior and Local Government, which has jurisdiction over the police, it said that based on documents, “the two choppers were previously owned by the Asian Spirit, Inc. in 2004, leased later to the Lionair Corporation, but mysteriously sold by the Manila Aerospace Products Trading Corporation to the PNP as brand new in July 2009. The two choppers were delivered, after inspection by a PNP inspection panel, on Feb. 12, 2010.”

“Two of the PNP’s choppers were used extensively by members of the former First Family and their friends, including some lawmakers, before they were sold as brand new to the police agency in July 2009,” the department said.

Several police officers were fired over the deal. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza