LOS ANGELES » The U.S. Department of Justice took action on Tuesday to seize $12.5 million in California property and assets from a businesswoman who is at the heart of a massive corruption scandal in the Philippines.
The agency filed a civil forfeiture complaint, contending that Janet Lim Napoles bought the assets for herself and her daughters with a decade’s worth of stolen money intended to fight poverty in the Philippines.
The assets include a motel near Disneyland; properties in Covina and Irvine; money from the sale of a Los Angeles luxury condominium; a Porsche; and a stake in a California-based consulting company.
“The Justice Department will not allow the United States to become a playground for the corrupt or a place to hide and invest stolen riches,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement.
Authorities contend that from 2004 to 2012, Napoles bribed Philippine officials in order to obtain more than $200 million in funding to dummy aid groups for sham development projects.
In the Philippines, Napoles, two of her children and numerous current and former officials, including senators and government ministers, have been charged in connection with what has been nicknamed the “pork barrel scam.”
Corruption has plagued the poverty-stricken nation of 97 million for decades, fostered by a culture of impunity by powerful politicians, businessmen and their allies, weak law enforcement and a notoriously slow justice system.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III came to office in 2010 pledging to break from corruption in the nation’s past, but few top officials have been prosecuted.
Napoles, who has pleaded not guilty in the corruption case, currently is serving up to 40 years in prison in the Philippines after being convicted of illegally detaining a relative who was a whistleblower.