MANILA (Mabuhay) – The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division on Monday seized the USB flash drive of pork barrel scam primary state witness Benhuy Luy, which supposedly contains files that detail the involvement of several lawmakers in the multi-billion peso scam.
“For the meantime, let this USB be in the possession of the court,” Fifth Division chairman Associate Justice Roland Jurado declared at the continuation of the hearing of former congressman Edgar Valdez’s petition to post bail for a plunder case.
Jurado made the decision after Luy admitted in open court that he has a back-up copy of the files contained in his external hard disk drive saved in his USB.
Composed of over a thousand pages, Luy’s external hard drive allegedly contained spreadsheet files, soft copies of vouchers, receipts, photos and other documents that supposedly detail the transactions of alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles with several lawmakers.
Records of the amounts of kickbacks the lawmakers, including Valdez, allegedly received from Napoles in exchange for allocating their Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel to her alleged fake foundations were also supposedly in the hard drive.
Luy said the files in his 16-gigabyte USB were the same as those contained in his 500 gigabyte external hard drive, which he had turned over to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and which has been used by the prosecution as evidence against several officials charged in the scam.
Luy said that upon the advice of his former lawyer, Levito Baligod, he made a back-up copy of the files to his USB before he turned over the external hard drive to the NBI in January 2014.
Napoles’ lawyer Dennis Buenaventura, however, pointed out that unless their camp will be able to examine Luy’s USB, “we cannot be sure if the witness is telling the truth that the files in his USB and external hard disk drive are the same.”
“May we request that the USB be marked as exhibit?” Buenaventura asked the court.
Valdez’s lawyer Joel Ferrer seconded Buenaventura’s motion.
“For Valdez, we want this flash drive to also be marked as exhibit… because according to the witness the documents in the hard disk drive were the exact documents copied in the USB. We have to determine if he is telling the truth. This will be a test of the credibility of the witness,” Ferrer said.
Jurado, in turn, ordered Buenaventura and Valdez to file a formal motion before the court.
State prosecutor Jacinto Dela Cruz, meanwhile, raised on objection pointing out that Luy had already admitted that the USB also contained some personal files.
“That is a personal property of the witness. The external hard drive is the one subject to forensic examination [of the NBI] as evidence to this case,” he said.
Luy’s lawyer, Mikhail Alivia, likewise objected the defense’s motion, saying the presentation of the USB as evidence might violate his client’s rights against self-incrimination.
“The USB is a personal property of the witness. Its presentation might violate his right against self-incrimination. And besides, the witness have already said that the contents of the USB just came from the external hard disk drive,” Alivia said.
Fifth Division senior member Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo, however, seconded Jurado’s decision to temporarily seize the USB, until the court resolves any motion to be filed by both camps in connection with the possible presentation of the item as evidence.
“We will order the submission of the USB to the custody of the court without prejudice to the right of the witness and his counsel to file the necessary motion to suspend [its presentation],” Gesmundo said.
“The point is, it is the witness who disclosed the existence of this USB containing the files [involved in this case],” he added.
Luy’s USB was sealed in a white envelope by a Fifth Division staff before the hearing was adjourned.
In a chance interview after the hearing, the defense camp maintained that it is important to examine Luy’s USB to determine if there is any discrepancy in the files being presented by the prosecution as evidence against the accused.
“Dati sinasabi niya (Luy) that only in that hard drive kung saan niya kinopy yung mga files niya involving the PDAF of the lawmakers… Pero dito ngayon sinabi niya na meron din sa USB,” Ferrer said.
“So it creates a serious doubt, which among the files are correct, itong nasa USB niya, o nasa external hard drive niya o yung nasa computer ng JLN Corporation?,” Ferrer added, referring to Napoles’ company where Luy previously worked.
Meanwhile, Buenaventura questioned why the prosecution was so adamant in blocking their move to examine Luy’s USB.
“Apparently, ayaw nilang ipakita ‘yung USB, hindi natin alam kung bakit. Ang sinasabi nila pareho lang naman [ang laman ng USB at external hard drive]. Bakit ayaw nila ipakita? Kung pareho lang naman e di walang problema, pero kapag may discrepancy, diyan tayo magkakaproblema,” Buenaventura said.
Napoles’ camp has been repeatedly pointing out that the files in Luy’s external hard drive were not authentic and may have been tampered.
On the other hand, the NBI has earlier stated that the files in Luy’s external hard drive were “not altered nor rectified from the day they were last saved.”(MNS)