Charlie ‘Atong’ Ang back in RP

00002780.jpgA close friend of deposed president Joseph Estrada was extradited to the country on Friday signalling the possible reopening of the graft case against the fallen leader.

Charlie “Atong” Ang arrived in the Philippines at 5:30 a.m. on board Philippine Airlines flight PR 103 under heavy police escort from the United States where he had been in hiding for five years. The businessman was handcuffed and clad in a bulletproof vest marked “NBI.”

The National Bureau of Investigation said it would safeguard Ang from possible threats against his life and it dispatched dozens of agents to protect him when he arrived.

Swarmed by NBI agents, Ang was escorted out of the NAIA Terminal 2 and ushered into an Asian utility vehicle. He arrived at the NBI headquarters around 6:32 a.m. and was brought to the office of Director Nestor Mantaring at the second floor where his mugshot and fingerprints were taken.

Almost five hours after Ang’s arrival at the NBI headquarters, he was escorted by heavily armed agents to the Department of Justice.

Ang arrived at the DOJ office around 10 a.m. and stayed there for almost an hour. Gonzalez ordered NBI to return Ang to its headquarters and wait for the Sandiganbayan’s decision on where to detain the businessman.

Mantaring said Ang’s detention at the bureau could last up to seven days.

Ang is among several people named as co-accused in a case of massive corruption filed against Estrada, who was toppled in a military-backed popular revolt in 2001.

In an interview during his flight home Ang told ABS-CBN television that he was nervous about coming back and that he feared for his life.

“There are a lot of people who have warned me not to come home. A lot of people. I have an idea who they are,” he said without elaborating.

Ang lost a legal fight in September when a Nevada court ordered his extradition.

Estrada has been in detention for the past five years while the case was being heard in court. Both the prosecution and defense panels have closed their arguments, but the court is expected to issue a verdict anytime this year.

Estrada is accused of plundering a personal fortune of up to $80 million dollars during his 30 months in office through tax kickbacks and bribes offered by numbers racket operators.

Ang, a personal friend of Estrada, allegedly helped the former leader in running a protection racket for gambling syndicates.

The justice department, meanwhile, said it may reopen the case against Estrada if Ang offers new evidence.

“[Estrada’s plunder trial] could be reopened but that will [need] approval from the court. A case can be reopened pending a decision of the court, especially when there are new [evidence],” Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez told DZMM.

Gonzalez earlier said he had turned down Ang’s offer to “disclose vital information” against his former friend.

In the DZMM interview, however, Gonzalez said he will have to get the full details of Ang’s claims.

“I want to find out if his story is credible,” he said.

He added that if he finds something “interesting” in Ang’s supposed revelations, DOJ could recommend him as a state witness against the former president.

In a separate interview, Estrada said he has no fears about Ang’s arrival because he is innocent of the allegations against him. With a report from AFP

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