MANILA >> Prosecutors on Thursday filed a second criminal case against former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, this time over an overpriced deal with a Chinese telecommunications giant that allegedly involved huge kickbacks.
Arroyo — who is under arrest on separate electoral fraud charges — has previously denied wrongdoing in the latest case. But under public pressure in 2008, she canceled a flagship $330 million Philippine government deal with China’s ZTE Corp. to set up a nationwide broadband network.
The cases are part of efforts of Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Aquino III, to root out high-level corruption that is endemic in the Philippines. Aquino blames Arroyo, who stepped down last year, of presiding over a decade of corrupt practices that eroded public trust in government and held back foreign investors.
She has accused him of using “black propaganda” to damage her image.
Arroyo’s husband and a former elections chief have denied accusations in a Senate hearing of receiving millions of dollars in kickbacks for Arroyo’s approval of the broadband deal. But the issue was never properly investigated because Arroyo had barred top officials from disclosing details.
Anti-graft prosecutors filed a case against Arroyo, husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, former Elections Commissioner Benjamin Abalos and ex-Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza over the botched contract.
Court spokesman Renato Bocar said Arroyo was charged “for being interested for personal gain in the approval of the … project despite knowledge of the irregularities and anomalies that attended its approval.”
The complaint is based on Senate testimonies in 2008 of ZTE consultant Dante Madriaga, who said that the deal was originally priced at $130 million, but that the cost ballooned to accommodate the kickbacks.
Former Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri had testified that Abalos offered him a bribe to approve the contract, and another witness, Jose de Venecia III, said the ex-president’s husband was promised a $70 million commission.
After being blocked at the Manila airport from seeking medical treatment abroad, Arroyo, 64, was arrested last month for allegedly ordering the rigging of 2007 congressional elections. She was moved to a military-run veterans’ hospital, where she remains in detention. Abalos was arrested Dec. 13.
Aquino said in an interview with ABS-CBN television aired this week that he would consider pardoning Arroyo if she were convicted only if she showed remorse.
Aquino was elected in a landslide on a promise to stamp out corruption. Sixteen months later, he still enjoys high ratings, with a recent poll finding that seven out of 10 Filipinos approve of his policies.
The poll, conducted Dec. 3-7 by independent Social Weather Stations, also found that 69 percent of 1,200 respondents believe the government was treating Arroyo fairly. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.