THE Senate Sergeant at Arms failed anew to find former budget undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, a key figure in the questioned award of multibillion-peso contracts for pandemic supplies, but landed late Sunday a big catch: the siblings Mohit and Twinkle Dargani, top executives of Pharmally Pharmaceuticals Corp., the biggest contractor.
According to retired general Rene Samonte, Senate-Sergeant-at-Arms, the OSAA teams did not find Lao, former head of the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management, at his known houses and properties in Cebu, Quezon City and Davao City.
The OSAA went to two condominium units in Quezon City, another condo unit in Cebu City, and finally, at Lao’s residence in a Davao subdivision.
While they came away empty-handed from the Lao residence in Davao, however, they snagged the Dargani siblings whom they had also been tracking down, per Samonte’s report to the Senate leadership and the Blue Ribbon committee, which earlier cited the Darganis, Lao and Pharmally director Linconn Ong in contempt for refusal to cooperate with Senate probers.
Ong was taken by the OSAA three weeks ago and is detained at the Senate premises in Pasay City, where the Darganis were also brought after their arrest on Sunday.
According to the OSAA report, Mohit and Twinkle Dargani had arrived at the Davao City International Airport on a chartered plane from Singapore and were about to board a chartered flight for Kuala Lumpur, when the OSAA, acting on a tip from the Bureau of Immigration, caught up with them.
The siblings were held in contempt by the Blue Ribbon after refusing to submit Pharmally’s financial records to senators.
The financial records, senators said, would validate their theory that the low-capital (P625,000) startup that bagged some P10 billion in contracts for face masks, shields and Covid-19 test kits through negotiated contracts supervised by DBM’s Lao had no capacity to handle such huge volumes of deliveries and had been favored right from the start.
Pharmally received an undetermined sum of financial assistance from former presidential adviser and Duterte friend Michael Yang. The Davao-based businessman insisted earlier his only link to Pharmally was introducing them to certain Chinese suppliers.
Initial records submitted by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to the Blue Ribbon indicated it did not pay correct taxes despite bagging billions in contracts, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said earlier.
The Senate officials scheduled the Darganis’ medical check-up today.
Meanwhile, Samonte said they continue to track down Lao, who stopped attending hearings after Duterte ordered Cabinet secretaries not to heed summons of the Blue Ribbon, whose chairman, Sen. Richard J. Gordon, the President had repeatedly attacked in his weekly national address.
Lao attended several of the 13 Blue Ribbon hearings, but snubbed the last four after Duterte’s order was issued.
Ong and the Darganis may be kept at the Senate, following Senate rules and jurisprudence on detention of uncooperative witnesses in legislative inquiries. Ong was earlier detained for refusing to provide details of Yang’s financial assistance to Pharmally.
The three may stay in detention if they refuse to cooperate, until the end of the 18th Congress, on June 30, 2022.