Fugitive tied to Philippine graft scandal surrenders in presidential palace
Associated Press in Manila
A Philippine businesswoman who allegedly helped legislators embezzle 10 billion pesos (HK$1.7 billion) in government funds marched into President Benigno Aquino's palace and dramatically gave herself up.
Janet Napoles, who had eluded a nationwide police manhunt, strode into the Malacanang palace in Manila wearing jeans, pink sneakers and a hoodie.
The moment was captured in photographs released by Aquino's office, and the president himself helped escort her to police headquarters.
The unusual circumstances of her surrender raised immediate suspicion that the executive branch of government was meddling in the judicial process.
"Now that we have got her, we can bring her to court," Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda said of the middle-aged woman, who fuelled outrage on social media sites when details of her family's lavish lifestyle were revealed.
"We are doing our best to further bring us closer to the truth."
Napoles faced arrest for allegedly detaining a former aide-turned-whistle-blower to keep him from revealing details of the alleged embezzlement. Justice officials are readying additional charges that she connived with legislators to siphon off money from a development fund.
Lacierda said he fetched Napoles from a Manila cemetery on Wednesday night and took her directly to the palace after her lawyer alerted the government that she wanted to surrender.
Lacierda said no special treatment was afforded the fugitive, but acknowledged that Napoles was not handcuffed and had even been given a 10-minute audience with Aquino, who assured her of her safety amid alleged threats to her life.
Aquino went with the group that took Napoles to the police headquarters, Lacierda said.
Napoles' surrender came three days after tens of thousands of Filipinos held a mass protest demanding her arrest and the abolition of legislators' controversial Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
The fund is supposed to finance lawmakers' pet development schemes, but critics say they are "pork barrel" projects which have traditionally been a source of corruption.
Napoles allegedly siphoned off money through fake non-governmental organisations.
"We're all after Ms Napoles. Everybody was so outraged. She has become the symbol of what we were so angry about last Monday," Lacierda said.
The protest germinated on Facebook as people vented their frustrations.
The online movement snowballed into a protest call, and on Monday up to 100,000 people eventually joined the peaceful rally in Manila.
While Aquino backed the protest and announced a 10 million peso bounty for Napoles' capture, critics yesterday said they were suspicious of the circumstances surrounding what they called a "VIP surrender". The Labour Party Group said: "Our challenge is for her to bare all and for Malacanang to ensure that she is not coached or censored under custody."
Aquino won the presidency in 2010 on a platform to end the pervasive corruption he blames for many of the country's woes.
Among his first acts was to work for the impeachment of a Supreme Court chief justice he accused of protecting his predecessor Gloria Arroyo from prosecution.
Arroyo is in detention and is now facing charges of massive corruption.
Additional reporting by Associated Press