'Influential' person wants Lee as state witness?

Posted at 03/07/2014 9:08 PM | Updated as of 03/08/2014 1:32 AM

MANILA -- Vice President Jejomar Binay on Friday said an "influential" person could be trying to help fugitive businessman Delfin Lee enter the government's Witness Protection Program.

The same person also allegedly tried to stop Lee's arrest Thursday.

Lee was arrested by the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Task Force Tugis operatives in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in Manila by virtue of a warrant issued by San Fernando Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 42 in connection with the over P6 billion in Pag-IBIG loans that went to "ghost borrowers" for a Globe Asiatique housing project in Mabalacat, Pampanga.

Speaking to radio dzMM on Friday afternoon, Binay said he received information that an influential person had a heated argument with the arresting officers, demanding that they release Lee.

"Kagabi eh nagkakasigawan dun sa police headquarters sa Camp Crame kasi nga pumoposiyon, nag-iimpluwensya. 'Ay hindi, meron nang desisyon yung Court of Appeals. Wala nang bisa yung warrant of arrest. Yun ang pinagdedebatehan kagabi," he said.

He said the person was pertaining to the CA decision that cleared Lee of syndicated estafa charges and ordered the police to stop his arrest, reversing the Pampanga court's earlier decision.

Binay, however, pointed out that the CA decision is not yet final and executory, and that the Supreme Court has the final say on the validity of Lee's warrant of arrest.

The vice president refused to identify the person.

When asked by radio dzMM anchors Anthony Taberna and Gerry Baja about the identity of the person he was talking about, Binay just laughed.

"Basta report ito sa akin kaninang umaga... Ang balita ko eh may tumawag nga na sinasabi siya yung kausap sa telepono, tinawagan yung PNP," he said.

Taberna then asked him if the person is a government official, a member of the executive or a Cabinet member.

Binay again just laughed and gave a brief answer: "Itong lumalakad na ito may balak pa ngang magawa itong si Delfin Lee na state witness."

"Joke lang, biro lang po," he quickly added.

Police 'delisted' Lee

Binay also claimed that Lee, who is considered to be one of the country's top fugitives, had been "delisted" by police authorities.

He said he received information that Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, the acting director of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), sent a letter to Lee's lawyer saying that the businessman was already removed from its wanted list.

"Kumbaga sa intensity ng paghahanap eh ibinaba... Ibig sabihin hindi na yung buong pwersa ang maghahanap [sa kanya]," he said.

That is why he was surprised that Lee was finally arrested, he said. "Napatalon ako. Sabi ko 'Congratulations! Hinuli na ng pulis!"

Binay also said that even PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima himself had written to Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas requesting that Lee be delisted.

"Nagulat na lang kami may sulat na pala si General Magalong dun sa abogado ni Delfin Lee...na sinasabi delisted na ang kliyente niyo," he said.

Asked if he knows why Lee was removed from the PNP's list, he said, "Sa pagtatanong ng abogado namin kung paanong nagkakaron ng delisting, ang pangunahing dahilan eh winithdraw na yung reward."

He, however, said he is not sure if the P2 million reward earlier offered by President Benigno Aquino III for Lee's arrest had already been withdrawn.

"Ngayon nga lang din ako nakarinig ng ganyan eh. Meron palang intensity ang paghahanap," he said.

An ABS-CBN News source from the PNP's Task Force Tugis, however, denied that an influential person tried to stop the arrest of Lee.

The source said no one meddled in the businessman's arrest, adding that the only person the arresting officers had a heated argument with was Lee's lawyer.

Umali admits calling Purisima

Meanwhile, Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali, president of the League of Provinces and treasurer of the ruling Liberal Party, admitted that he called Purisima shortly after Lee was arrested.

He also said he was helping Lee's lawyer arrange for the businessman to be accepted into the government's Witness Protection Program.

"Kasi ilang weeks nang nagpasabi na nag-aaply siyang maging state witness," he said.

He explained why he called Purisima after Lee's arrest.

"Oo, kasi tumawag yung abogado niya na from Mindoro, sabi hinuli. Eh meron naman silang quashal ng warrant sa CA. Sabi naman ni Chief PNP, kailangan daw kumuha ng release order ng CA," Umali told ABS-CBN News.

He said Lee's arrest was a surprise since the CA had already quashed the arrest warrant and the PNP had already removed him from its wanted list.

Umali, however, emphasized that he made no demand or request that Lee be released immediately.

"Hindi na nga siya nagtatatago eh... Akala namin hindi na siya huhulihin," he said.

Asked about his relationship with Lee, he explained that his friend was Lee's lawyer Gilbert Repizo.

But he said he has no details about Lee's application to become state witness or the targets of his potential testimony.

Rivera: No state witness plan

However, another lawyer of Lee denied Friday that the businessman plans to become a state witness.

Atty. Willie Rivera claimed that his client no longer faces any criminal charge and Umali might have just been misquoted about Lee wanting to become a state witness.

"He's a fraternity brother (referring to Umali). He should not be saying that," he said.

Rivera said he -- and not Repizo -- is handling Lee's case. "Ako po ang lawyer niya and his services will not be engaged."

He said they will file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus at the Court of Appeals on Monday to force the police to free Lee. -- With reports from Lynda Jumilla and Maan Macapagal, ABS-CBN News