Estrada aide ‘swindled government’

  • AseanPlus News
  • Saturday, 13 Dec 2003

MANILA: An adviser of then President Joseph Estrada took two million pesos (RM136,917) of the ransom for the Abu Sayyaf hostages, or twice the “reimbursement” amount for purported negotiation expenses.  

Robert Aventajado, Estrada’s then chief negotiator, levelled this accusation yesterday at Lepeng Wee, Estrada adviser for economic affairs in Mindanao who was also negotiating for the release of the nine Malaysians among the group abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in April 2000 from the Sipadan resort.  

Aventajado told the Inquirer that he did not know how much was actually paid for the release of the Malaysians.  

However, he said, Wee “paid for the release of the first Malaysian hostage.”  

But for the one million pesos (RM68,458) he had purportedly advanced, Wee asked for two million pesos in reimbursement, Aventajado said.  

Asked if he was accusing Wee of pocketing part of the ransom, Aventajado replied: “At least from what we know, he spent one million pesos and reimbursed for two million pesos.” 

He said he learned this only later, when he became close to Wee’s emissary who supposedly told him “how much was really spent.”  

Contacted by the Inquirer, Wee and his lawyer Tony Angeles declined to comment.  

Angeles said Wee would rather wait for the chance to read for himself the accusations contained in Aventajado’s book, 140 Days of Terror: In The Clutches of the Abu Sayyaf.  

The Inquirer faxed copies of five pages of Aventajado’s book to Angeles and to Wee’s family on Thursday. 

But Angeles said he and Wee were out of the office and would only be able to read the pages last night.  

Wee’s wife Cely told the Inquirer that it was Aventajado who “got part of the ransom money,” and that her husband “did not get a single cent from the government.”  

In his book to be launched yesterday, Aventajado said the efforts of politicians like Wee to grab credit for the release of the hostages lengthened the latter’s days in captivity.  

He also wrote of how private funds coming from friends of Estrada were used for ransom or for reimbursement of negotiation expenses, such as the two million pesos that Wee supposedly took.  

“I was really wondering where I would get the money for everything that the government could only deny doing –paying ransom in the teeth of the universal prohibition against doing it,” he wrote. 

“But, ever the clever businessman, (Wee) was reimbursed and managed to squeeze an extra million for what he had claimed were incidentals.”  

Aventajado also did not hide his antipathy toward Wee, whom he accused of “spreading the rumour that I had pocketed some of the ransom money.”  

Along with Estrada and then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes, Aventajado is accused of skimming off part of the US$25mil (RM95mil) in ransom that the Libyan government had given for the release of the remaining European hostages.  

Aventajado has in turn pointed the accusing finger at his fellow negotiators, then Libyan Ambassador to the Philippines Abdurazak Rajab Azzarouq and Mohammad Ismail.  

Aventajado also said efforts to secure the release of the Malaysians were complicated by bickering.  

Wee had “acquired a proprietary attitude towards the Malaysians –they were his and his alone, to be rescued only to his everlasting credit,” Aventajado wrote.  

Cely said Aventajado was using her husband as a scapegoat, purportedly in anticipation of captured Abu Sayyaf leader Galib Andang a.k.a. Commander Robot spilling the beans. 

“He is afraid that people will find (Andang) more credible when he starts telling his own version of how the ransom money was stolen,” she said. –The Philippine Daily Inquirer / Asia News Network  

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