MIKEY DISAPPOINTED OVER RACEHORSE IMPORT FLAP

ANGELES, PAMPANGA, OCTOBER 3, 2003 (STAR) By Ding Cervantes And Mayen Jaymalin  - Vice Gov. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo is "disappointed and frustrated" over attempts to drag him into controversies designed to bring down the performance ratings of his mother, President Arroyo, his spokesman said yesterday.

In an interview with The STAR, the younger Arroyo strongly denied allegations that he imported expensive racehorses from Australia and used the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) as a front so he could avoid paying taxes.

He referred follow-up questions to his spokesman, lawyer Noel Flores, chairman of Barangay Balibago in this city.

"It’s all politically motivated. It is difficult to believe otherwise because of the timing. First, they hit the First Gentleman (Jose Miguel Arroyo) but were not able to prove their charges, so now they are after Mikey," Flores said.

He declined to comment on whether opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who previously accused the First Gentleman of keeping secret bank accounts under the alias Jose Pidal for his money-laundering activities, is involved in the controversy surrounding the vice governor.

Flores said the allegation against Mikey Arroyo is yet another "tool" to hurt the President.

He admitted that sometime last June, Mikey Arroyo and his wife Angela were indeed in Australia upon the invitation of the Don Juan Racing Club.

"He wanted to see how horses are auctioned in Australia and, on the side, the trip was also in time for his first wedding anniversary," Flores said.

Mikey Arroyo and Angela were married in Lubao, Pampanga on June 24 last year.

Flores said that while his client loves horses, he is not involved in horse racing.

Mikey Arroyo is a shareholder in the Franchino Farms Corp., a Manila-based firm that engages in horse raising and trading, he said.

"But he has always been a passive investor in that firm and does not participate in its management operations," Flores said, noting that the vice governor "never owned any horse."

Mikey Arroyo earlier said he welcomed an investigation, and urged the Philippine Racing Commission, the PSC and the Bureau of Customs to conduct an "exhaustive" probe.

The Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) said it will investigate the PSC’s alleged involvement in the importation of 17 thoroughbred horses about two months ago by Lamberto Almeda, a friend of Mikey Arroyo, who allegedly owns the horses.

The Ombudsman is also studying whether it has enough basis to conduct an investigation into the allegations.

ABS-CBN earlier reported that Mikey Arroyo’s friends pretended to represent the Philippine government when they purchased the racehorses to avoid paying taxes.

PAGC commissioner Teresita Baltazar questioned the PSC’s role in the importation when it was Almeda who made the purchase. She said that if the PSC needed the racehorses, its officials would have purchased the animals in Australia.

The PSC, however, admitted forging a memorandum of understanding with Almeda in May 2003 to help strengthen the country’s equestrian program.

Almeda was given the authorization to import the horses in the name of the commission but "with all attendant expenses to his account."

PSC Chairman Eric Buhain said his agency was supposed to choose from the imported thoroughbreds for its riding program, but that Almeda was to pay the taxes on the animals should none of them be chosen.

Almeda ended up paying all the taxes, Buhain said, refuting claims that the PSC was merely used by Mikey Arroyo to avoid paying taxes.

Flores said Almeda and his client were in Australia during the auction but insisted that Mikey Arroyo was not aware at all of the transactions between Almeda and the PSC.

He said Almeda, a friend of his client, belongs to the third generation of a family noted as horseracing aficionados.

Flores added that Mikey Arroyo met Almeda two or three years ago through the Don Juan Racing Club.

"The racing club has not only horseracing aficionados as members, but also other businessmen and lay people who are engaged in the club’s various charitable projects," he said.

Flores also stressed that during Mikey Arroyo’s trip to Australia, his client met with Filipino communities there to invite them to invest in Pampanga.

The President, for her part, said she will not intervene and will let her eldest son defend himself from the charges against him, according to Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye.

"The President let her husband defend himself and she has the same attitude over the scandal involving her son. If there are allegations against Mikey, he will handle his own defense," Bunye said in a radio interview.

He said the President believes the charges against her son are part of the "political season" that has gripped the country and she will not prevent the PAGC and the Ombudsman from looking into the allegations.

"The stand of Malacañang on the issue is that nobody is above the law," Bunye said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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