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Ombudsman runs after Romualdez couple’s $5M Swiss deposits

Former Ambassador Benjamin “Kokoy" Romualdez and his wife Juliette Gomez-Romualdez now face a forfeiture case before the Sandiganbayan over their Swiss bank deposits amounting $5.19 million now held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank (PNB). The Office of the Ombudsman filed the case on Wednesday, nearly five year after Assistant Ombudsman Pelagio S. Apostol had approved a Nov. 22, 2006 resolution that recommended filing of the case with the Sandiganbayan after the May 2007 elections. Acting Ombudsman Orlando C. Casimiro approved the case for filing last June 11, or before Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales was appointed. The case was based on the Presidential Commission on Good Government ’s (PCGG) 2003 complaint that the younger brother of former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos only had a total net worth of P2,348,495.22 in his 1983 statement of assets and liabilities. PCGG investigators traced the couple’s bank deposits on Dec. 29, 1998 after Zurich, Switzerland district attorney Peter Cosandey ordered the release of all “assets, bonds, and other financial instruments" — pertaining to Romualdez — to the Philippine government The couple had two deposits at UBS-Geneva, account no. CO-920.310.0 containing $4,528.71 as of Dec. 31, 1998; and (Invested Trust) Account No. CO-920.310.1 holding funds amounting to $4,498,000.00 and maturing on Jan. 21, 1999 at an interest rate of 4.621 percent. Monies in the said accounts originated from Standard Chartered Bank-Zurich account no. 7676, which was opened on Aug. 3, 1983 with an initial deposit of $2 million transferred from the Philippine branch of Standard Chartered. Then PNB vice president and trust officer Jose V. Ferro confirmed on June 29, 1999, receiving the Swiss funds in the amount of $4,613,020.76 in the name of the spouses Romualdez. The money was then placed in escrow pending final determination of ownership by a local court. “A comparison of respondent Benjamin Romualdez’ reported net worth in 1983 of P2,348,495.22 …with the US$2,000,000.00 initial deposit in SA 7676 will show the huge disparity between his lawful income and the secret Swiss bank accounts which he opened during his incumbency as public officer," the PCGG said in its 23-page resolution. Government lawyers noted that in Aug. 1983, Romualdez had held various positions including ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Peking (China), Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and Washington, D.C. (United States), as well as governor of Leyte province. — MRT/VS, GMA News