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13 December 2000 - ABS-CBN

German cops disprove Abu ransom kickback story

MANILA (ABS-CBN) -- German police reportedly discredited the Abu Sayyaf ransom kickback story published in a German magazine after transcripts of conversations between government negotiators and bandit leader Commander Robot turned out to be inconclusive.

The taped recorded conversations, captured on a satellite phone, did not mention anything about a supposed share of President Joseph Estrada and flagship projects chief Robert Aventajado in ransom payments, National Police chief Panfilo Lacson said this Tuesday.

In an interview, Lacson said he asked German police to verify contents of the transcript translated in German, following news the magazine Der Spiegel published a story stating Estrada and Aventajado received cuts from ransoms during the Sulu hostage crisis.

Earlier, Der Spiegel based its claim on a supposed taped conversation over a satellite phone between Aventajado and Robot a.k.a. Ghalib Andang.

It alleged the President through the intercession of Aventajado, pocketed a total of $8 million in commissions from ransom payments for Sulu hostages.

"Na-confirm nila, kasi baka may defect ang nakuha namin. They confirmed na wala talaga. Even at their end ay wala talagang ganoong usapan tungkol sa suggestion about a commission involving Secretary Aventajado and the President," Lacson said.

(The German police was able to confirm it. We asked them for a confirmation because the transcript we received may have been defective. But they confirmed there is really nothing in the transcript suggesting a commission involving Aventajado and the President)

The Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier sent a superintendent and a Tausug-speaking policeman to help German police in translating the taped conversations.

Lacson said the conversations also included other government negotiators, such as former Libyan envoy Rajab Azzarouq.

With most of the conversations conducted in Tausug, a native dialect in Mindanao, Lacson said he is ready to present copies of the official transcript before an investigative body.

Earlier, Aventajado said it is likely that a libel suit from him and the President would be filed in Germany against Der Spiegel. "Our lawyers are studying where to file the case. Looks like we'll have to file it in Germany," he said in a television interview Monday night.

Aventajado also said his lawyers are now translating into English the controversial article, which he said was posted on Der Spiegel's internet site.

Last Monday, Aventajado and the President separately denied the claim of the magazine that they received a cut in ransom money for hostages kept by the Abu Sayyaf.

Press Secretary Ricardo Puno Jr. for his part had said the President wants his lawyers to file the suit against Der Spiegel "as soon as possible."

He said Malacañang expects the magazine to come up with proof backing its allegations, otherwise, an apology from the magazine is in order.

Puno also made it clear while the President is irked over the article, he does not want the incident blown up into a "diplomatic incident."

On his part, Aventajado said: "definitely we'll file a libel suit. My mind is made up, and the President has said he will also file a libel suit. Now our lawyers are looking at whether we can file a joint case."

Black propaganda being traced
The camp of President Estrada is now looking into leads that would directly link the Der Spiegel magazine to an ally of opposition party Lakas-NUCD-UMDP.

The President in chance interview, said part of information gathered by Malacañang involved the participation of the National Union of Christian Democrats (NUCD).

The NUCD, the known social democratic party representing Germany, is one of the known allies of the Lakas party headed by former president Fidel Ramos.

"That's the information I received. The NUCD social democrat has its connection in Germany. I have not gotten the complete report yet, I would let you know by tomorrow. I would know if there is a political color on this," the President said.

Estrada said he has already asked Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon to forward a communique to the Der Spiegel management, protesting the story published by the magazine.

Aside from a letter-to-the-editor, legal advisers of the President are now in the thick of collating evidence that would support a libel case against the magazine.

A ranking official of Malacañang on Tuesday disclosed the President received a letter from the German government on the case.

The official who requested anonymity, said the communication was signed by the German minister.

In the letter, the German Minister reportedly denied that one of their secret service agents was involved in the production of the Der Spiegel story.

The German government in its letter reportedly reiterated its full trust and respect to the Estrada administration, especially when it negotiated for the release of their nationals then hostaged by the Abu Sayyaf group.

The Malacañang official ruled out the filing of a diplomatic protest against the German government.

"Filing a diplomatic protest will only be considered if the German government has committed a grave mistake or offended the Philippine government seriously," the official said.

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