GRAFT CHARGES VS. DOY LAUREL FOR CENTENNIAL EXPO

Manila, March 21, 2003 -- Former Vice-President Salvador Laurel was finally indicted for graft before the Sandiganbayan Friday in connection with an alleged anomaly he committed when he was still chairman for the National Centennial Commission (NCC) that built the infamous 9.6 billion pesos-worth 1998 Centennial Expo Project.

A 30,000 peso bail was recommended for his temporary liberty by special prosecutors, who held him criminally liable for increasing "tremendously" the original budget of 248 million pesos for the Freedom Ring-- a portion of the entire project-- to 1.165 billion pesos without the benefit of a public bidding.

Earlier, the Supreme Court paved the way for the indictment of Laurel after it turned down his argument that he cannot be considered a government official because the NCC was just a temporarily-created office by then-Pres. Fidel V. Ramos.

However, Ramos was cleared during the early stages of the probe courtesy of a "marginal note" he reportedly issued to the former NCC chair not to push through with the plan to augment the Freedom Ring budget.

Government prosecutors said Laurel committed "evident bad faith and manifest partiality" when he "arbitrarily disregarded" the original Douglas/ Gallagher Master Plan and gave "unwarranted benefits" to Asia Construction and Development Authority when NCC awarded the contract.

Laurel's argument that he thought the Philippine Centennial Exposition '98 Corp. -- which he chaired-- was a private firm and could not be compelled to conduct a public bidding was shot down by investigators, saying this was a matter of defense that should be raised in a full-blown trial.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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