Central Figure in Philippine Graft Case Surrenders

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MANILA -- The woman at the center of a wide-ranging corruption scandal in the Philippines surrendered to President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday night, ending a nationwide dragnet that had detectives searching airports and yacht clubs.

Janet Lim-Napoles, a wealthy Manila businesswoman, was arrested on a warrant accusing her of the "illegal detention" of a witness who claims that she helped divert billions of pesos away from poverty-reduction programs and into the coffers of lawmakers and their associates. Justice Department officials have said they are preparing additional charges against Ms. Lim-Napoles related to the scandal.

The case set off outrage in the Philippines when photos emerged on social media sites showing Ms. Lim-Napoles's daughter enjoying lavish vacations in Europe and the United States, posing on a Porsche and in a limousine, and hobnobbing with celebrities.

On Monday, tens of thousands of Filipinos gathered here in Manila to protest the brewing corruption scandal. A government investigation, and subsequent local media outlets, discovered muddy mountain tracks where multimillion-peso government-financed roads were supposed to have been built. Other bogus projects include ramshackle buildings that were financed as modern community centers.

The government investigation, which alleges that at least 6.1 billion pesos, or about $140 million, was diverted from poverty programs into the pockets of politicians, also found that fake organizations were set up to receive the funds. In some cases, the relatives of politicians authorizing the payments were the directors of the organizations receiving the money.

Ms. Lim-Napoles met Wednesday night with Edwin Lacierda, a presidential spokesman, in a Manila cemetery and asked to be allowed to surrender directly to the president. Mr. Lacierda said she was taken to Mr. Aquino, who assured her of her safety and told her that she would be given due process in her defense.

On Thursday, Mr. Lacierda denied that Ms. Lim-Napoles had received special treatment by being allowed to surrender directly to Mr. Aquino. He said other high-profile fugitives had turned themselves in to presidents.

"Let me just say that the president is an honorable man," Mr. Lacierda said at an afternoon news conference. "It is in our culture that if the fugitive throws himself at the mercy of the highest official, the president is honor-bound to secure and receive the fugitive."

Ms. Lim-Napoles, who has denied the allegations against her, was taken to the Philippine National Police Headquarters before her transfer to a city jail.

Mr. Aquino has made the battle against corruption a hallmark of his three-year-old administration, but he has faced a series of high-profile allegations in recent months: police officers' engaging in extrajudicial killings and thefts, immigration officers' allowing a fugitive to escape the country, and diplomats' sexually harassing Filipinos working in the Middle East.

Despite the problems, Mr. Aquino has received positive marks from financial ratings agencies and international organizations for his efforts to address persistent corruption.

The latest Global Corruption Barometer report, produced by Transparency International and released in July, pointed to the Philippines as one of only 11 countries out of 107 where people reported a general improvement in the corruption situation.

But the report said Mr. Aquino had not been effective in overhauling government institutions like the police and customs departments, nor had pushed through pending anticorruption legislation, including a freedom of information act and a whistle-blower protection law. "The government has initiated a number of anticorruption frameworks, plans and road maps, and the strategies can be overwhelming and confusing," the report said. "Moreover, there is no synergy among the government agencies tasked to implement them and, in the end, nothing gets accomplished."

Lawmakers in the Philippines are no stranger to corruption allegations and legal problems. According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 504 candidates in the national elections in May had been charged at some point with corruption or other crimes and more than half of them were elected, including 17 who had been convicted.

"If you can't jail them, elect them," said Malou Mangahas, executive director of the center. "If you do jail them, well, you can always elect them again."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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