MANILA (Reuters) - A lawyer for billionaire Philippine tycoon Roberto “Bobby” Ongpin said on Saturday a court-mandated freeze on about 100 bank accounts linked to him was part of government moves to persecute him for his close links to the husband of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The Court of Appeals, in an order dated December 6, ordered the freeze on bank accounts related to Ongpin and his associates after state and Senate probes showed he received “behest loans”, or loans obtained under preferential terms, from state Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), according to court documents obtained by Reuters.
Ongpin’s legal counsel, Rodolfo Ma. Ponferrada, said in a statement there was no reason to freeze the bank accounts because there was nothing the government was seeking to recover. Ongpin had fully paid the loans from DBP of around 660 million pesos ($16 million) with interest well before maturity, he said.
The freeze order was “just the latest salvo in a continuing pattern of prosecution against his client because of his close association with the former First Gentleman, Atty. Mike Arroyo,” Ponferrada said, adding the order was based on “inaccuracies and wrong information”.
The freeze, requested by the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council, can be extended by up to six months and involves accounts with 20 banks and financial institutions, including top local banks BDO Unibank Inc, Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co, Bank of the Philippine Islands and local units of foreign banks Citibank N.A. and HSBC.
The order by the Court of Appeals illustrates the growing reach of President Benigno Aquino’s anti-corruption drive in a country long plagued by endemic graft.
Former President Arroyo has herself been detained in an army hospital since October on plunder charges.
Ongpin, 75, is the country’s ninth-richest man with a net worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine. He does not deny that Mike Arroyo is a close friend.
A Harvard Business School graduate and certified accountant, Ongpin was trade minister under late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
His investments cut a broad swathe through the economy. He is the largest single investor in the country’s biggest conglomerate, San Miguel Corp, via his firm Top Frontier Investment Holdings, with a 37 percent stake.
He also owns medium-sized Philippine Bank of Communications, property firm Alphaland Corp, oil explorer Atok-Big Wedge, gaming firm Philweb Corp.
Ongpin used the loan proceeds to acquire a stake in top mining firm Philex Mining Corp, which he sold weeks later for a 65 percent gain to Hong Kong’s First Pacific Co Ltd, according to stock exchange filings.
Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Jeremy Laurence