MANILAThe Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday ordered the downgrading of charges against property developer Delfin Lee from syndicated estafa to simple estafa, a bailable offense.
This was announced by SC Spokesman Theodore Te in a press briefing after the High Court's en banc session.
Lee is detained at the Pampanga provincial jail for over four years now, while facing criminal cases over the alleged anomalous housing projects of his firm, Globe Asiatique in Pampanga, worth PHP6.6 billion.
In a 7-5 vote with two abstentions, the High Court dismissed the petition filed in 2014 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG Fund) seeking the reversal of a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling in 2013.
"The Court downgraded the offense that respondent Delfin Lee is charged with from syndicated estafa under Article 315, as amended, to simple estafa. As a consequence, the respondent Lee, who is the accused in the cases below, is entitled to bail as a matter of right," Te told reporters during the press briefing.
The High Court also lifted the temporary restraining order it issued in March 2014 that prevented Lee's release from the jail as ordered by the appellate court.
In November 2013, the CA ordered the Pampanga Regional Trial Court (RTC) to terminate the trial of the charges against Lee and recall the arrest warrant against him.
The DOJ subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration, but the CA upheld its ruling, which led state prosecutors to elevate their case before the SC in a petition for certiorari filed on January 2, 2014.
The SC made the ruling after resetting deliberations on the case over 20 times since June 2015.
Lee was indicted for syndicated estafa charges for allegedly defrauding the government of PHP6.6 billion in housing loan proceeds from home buyers, whom investigators later found to be fictitious or had incomplete documents.
But he persistently sought relief from courts and eventually secured a favorable ruling from the special 15th division of the appellate court in November 2013, which lifted the arrest warrant issued against him by the Pampanga RTC Branch 42.
The CA had bought Lee's argument the he could no longer be prosecuted for the non-bailable charge of syndicated estafa following the dismissal of charges against two of his co-accused, Pag-IBIG Fund foreclosure manager Alex Alvarez and GA documentation head Christina Sagun.
With the dismissal of the complaint against Alvarez and Sagun, which left Lee and GA vice president Dexter Lee and accounting head Cristina Salagan as three remaining accused, the CA held that the crime of syndicated estafa may no longer apply against the remaining accused since the law requires at least five accused in a syndicated estafa case.
The DOJ and Pag-IBIG questioned the CA's ruling before the SC and secured the TRO.
Lee was arrested on March 6, 2014 by elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Task Force Tugis at the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in Manila by virtue of a warrant of arrest issued by the Pampanga RTC Branch 42, in connection with the Pag-IBIG housing loan scam � in which, Lee allegedly used "ghost borrowers" for GA's housing projects. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency