COMELEC chair accused of unexplained wealth by estranged wife

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 7) — Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chair Andres Bautista has been amassing hundreds of millions of pesos in unexplained wealth, his estranged wife has claimed.

Bautista’s wife Patricia presented information and documents to the National Bureau of Investigation on August 1, allegedly showing more than ₱335 million in local and foreign bank accounts that weren’t disclosed in the official’s Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN).

Patricia also listed 14 properties in the Philippines and abroad worth more than ₱300 million as well as foreign investments in companies based in the British Virgin Islands, Brunei Darussalam, and Anguilla — all allegedly under Bautista's name.

In her affidavit, Patricia accused her husband of “misleading and corrupt practices while in office."

She said not only did Bautista violate the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by falsifying his SALN, he likewise violated the Anti-Money Laundering Act, and performed "unethical practices as a member of the bar."

Patricia said she began receiving reports of Bautista's "alleged misdealings and questionable actions" in 2016 but paid them no heed as she did not ask her husband about his work as a public official.

However, Patricia recounted in her affidavit that she "accidentally" came across “gift-wrapped" cash "sitting in a bag" in their living room. She also found documents showing property allegedly owned by her husband that she was not aware of.

From there, she discovered other documents in their house mentioning more properties, bank accounts and investments that were kept from her.

38 bank accounts kept

Among the items she found were 30 separate accounts under Bautista's name along with "some of his family members" with the Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City branch of the Luzon Development Bank (LDB) amounting to around ₱227,701,053.

Under these 30 bank accounts, deposits and withdrawals were made during 2016.

Another five bank accounts with the LDB's Makati branch contains ₱101,519,909.

She also claimed Bautista has two other accounts under the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. worth ₱257,931.60 and $12,778.30, along with an account with the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corp. worth HK$948,358.97.

Bautista declared he had only ₱176.3 million in his 2016 SALN.

"The substantial deposits and withdrawals in each of the accounts were made within the last two years, and coincidentally, while Andy was already the COMELEC Chairman and when the 2016 National and Local Elections were conducted,” Patricia said in the affidavit.

She added most deposits were made below the ₱500,000 threshold which would have prevented banks from informing anti-money laundering authorities about the transactions.

"Overall, I find these highly questionable given his stature as a high ranking government official and the sensitive nature of his work in overseeing the country's elections,” she said.

Patricia said her husband may have realized she found out about the documents and may have moved these accounts to somewhere else or closed them completely.

Properties and foreign investments owned

Patricia also listed 14 items of property allegedly under Bautista's name, two of these – a unit at The Suite in Bonifacio High Street property in The District in San Francisco, California, U.S.A. – not included in his SALN.

Based on her assessment, she said the 14 items of property were worth up to ₱300 million in total, “definitely more” than the ₱158.5 million in properties declared by Bautista in his 2016 SALN.

There were also foreign investments in companies based in The British Virgin Islands, Brunei Darussalam, and Anguilla.

Patricia said she had confronted her husband about her findings, but he denied being involved in the investments.

Commissions received

More importantly, Patricia revealed payslips and checks written to Bautista from Divina Law "as commission for assisting the law firm clients with the Comelec."

Divina Law is the firm of Nilo Divina – one of Bautista's best friends, she claimed. Among the cases Divina Law has handled involve government clients such as Baseco and the United Coconut Planters Bank.

Patricia said she was prompted to make an affidavit to clear her name.

"I fear that perhaps some properties and finances our family may have accumulated/benefitted from during his time in office may have originated from illegal or immoral acts or conducts," she said.

She added, "I likewise fear that my name and reputation might be dragged and implicated in these (ill-gotten) properties should there be any eventual and formal investigation conducted against Andy."

Patricia said her husband knows she possesses the documents mentioned in her affidavit and has since cut her off financial support.

'Allegations are all lies'

Bautista released a statement today where he declared his disappointment in Patricia's "false accusations," saying she has allowed herself to be "used to serve the political agenda of some opportunistic people."

"Her allegations are all lies, and I categorically deny all of them," Bautista said.

Bautista accused his wife of stealing cash, GCs, ATM cards, and other documents in November 2016 – all the items belonged to him and his family, he says. Some have since been embellished by his wife's lawyers, he added.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' Pinky Webb Monday, Bautista said when he asked his wife if she consulted with her counsel before taking the items, she responded that her counsel had advised her to proceed.

"This was a blatant violation of my right to privacy," he said.

In the 10 months since the alleged theft, Bautista claims his wife has tried to extort money from him, and when she realized he wasn't going to give in, she filed an affidavit "based on fabrications and lies."

The Bautistas have been married since 2000, but have been estranged for four years.