Chinese ZTE execs willing to testify in court
MANILA, Philippines—Executives of the ZTE Corp., the Chinese telecommunications firm involved in the controversial $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal, are willing to testify in court about their dealings with government officials but are worried for their safety, according to deputy special prosecutor John I. C. Turalba.
Turalba said whistleblower Jun Lozada, who is supposedly in contact with the Chinese officials, has assured the prosecutors that the two are willing to testify in the Sandiganbayan in the trial of former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri to shed light on the allegedly corrupt $329-million deal during the previous Arroyo administration.
The two officials, identified as Fan Yang, the company’s account officer, and Lu Yong, the vice president, were only “at ease” with Lozada, who was a former consultant for the project, Turralba said.
“They are afraid for their safety,” he said.
Turalba said the prosecution could not find the two Chinese officials and had asked Lozada to contact them.
“We cannot trace them,” he said.
Lozada, a former consultant of Neri, and Jose de Venecia III, a businessman who was himself interested in getting the contract for the broadband project, have accused former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the latter’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and former elections chair Benjamin Abalos, of allegedly receiving kickbacks from ZTE Corp.
The project was intended to build a broadband network linking government agencies and local government units nationwide.
The Ombudsman has charged Neri with violation of the anti-graft law for allegedly conferring with Abalos on the NBN project, and for allegedly meeting with ZTE officials when the project was under assessment. Abalos is also facing similar graft charges.
At a Senate hearing in September 2007, Neri testified that Abalos offered him P200 million to approve the deal, confirming reports that the contract for the NBN project was tainted with corruption.
Turalba said state prosecutors would ask the Sandiganbayan, which is hearing the cases against Neri and Abalos, to issue subpoenas to the Chinese embassy in Manila for it to trace and summon the ZTE officials to testify.
Should the ZTE executives refuse to come to the Philippines to testify, prosecutors could go to China to get the witnesses’ depositions, he said.
According to Turalba, the Chinese officials could bolster the prosecution’s stance that some government officials took kickbacks from the deal.
The two officials were cited as the ones who gave “advance money” to Abalos. De Venecia, who met the ZTE officials in China with Abalos in 2006 to discuss the possibility of partnering with them, testified that Abalos had received commissions from the Chinese firm.
At a hearing in the 5th Division Thursday, De Venecia said Abalos pressed the ZTE executives for “commissions” in order to get a favorable response from the Arroyo government.
De Venecia said Fan Yang had told him they already gave “advance money” to Abalos.
Abalos, who resigned from his post in the wake of the scandal, admitted that he knew the ZTE officials but denied brokering the deal or accepting money from the Chinese firm.
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