MANILA, June 7, 2005
 (STAR) By Des Ferriols - In a move reminiscent of the US government’s prosecution of American mobster Al Capone, the Department of Finance (DOF) said yesterday it has directed the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to investigate alleged jueteng payola recipients for possible tax violations.

Capone was a Mafia boss during the 1920s but the US government was unable to pin him down on his criminal activities until the Internal Revenue Service began building up a case for tax evasion that jailed him for life.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said yesterday the BIR would investigate individuals who have been publicly charged with receiving regular bribes from jueteng operators "for possible violation of our tax laws."

Purisima urged top government officials who have been implicated in the ongoing Senate investigations to voluntarily open their financial books to examination by independent auditors.

According to Purisima, these officials should also reveal all their financial transactions so that they could be examined by the BIR, the Revenue Integrity Protection Service of the DOF and the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

"If authorized by these personalities, there are government agencies which can look into their finances and this will go a long way in the effort to clarify the allegations and hopefully put closure to this issue," Purisima said.

Independent of the voluntary opening of financial records and financial transactions, Purisima said the BIR would conduct its own examination from the angle of tax declarations and possible tax law violations.

According to Purisima, public allegations of gambling-related bribery in the government could create real problems of credibility that might ultimately threaten investments in the country over the long term.

Even before the jueteng scandal broke out, the Philippines was already tagged as the 11th most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International, an international group that conducts global monitoring of graft and corruption.

"Whether the allegations may appear to be baseless or not because of the absence or presence of hard proof, it is important that we clear the air as quickly as possible," Purisima said.

Purisima said the situation was made more problematic by the fact that "a credible institution, namely the Church, has lent its reputation to the charges."

He was referring to the allegations bared by Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Oscar Cruz, whose fiery exposés led to a Senate inquiry into the jueteng issue. Cruz had tagged police, government officials and even some close to President Arroyo as complicit in illegal jueteng operations.

"Those (facing allegations) are occupying positions of responsibility," Purisima said. "If not cleared, our international image will be irreparably tarnished and the cynicism and skepticism of our citizens against the government will be reinforced."

The Department of Justice has already been instructed to investigate the charges but Purisima said the process would take time. "That’s why I urge those in government who have been named to act proactively to clear their names and volunteer to open their financial records," Purisima said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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