“As Inekon had advanced some money to those facilitating the supply contract, it had to recoup its losses, thus the Rychtar expose.
In 2013, then Czech Ambassador Josef Rychtar came out in an interview exposing an alleged extortion attempt of the highest level on Czech train equipment supplier Inekon.
Among those linked by the ambassador to the multimillion-dollar mulcting attempt were Eldon Cruz and his wife Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, the oldest sister of then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, and former Transportation Secretary Pete Prado.
Rychtar alleged the group tried to extort $30 million from Inekon for a supply contract with the Metro Rail Transit (MRT).
A recounting from those in the know revealed it was former Philippine Ambassador to Czechoslovakia Evelyn Austria who arranged the visit of Ballsy and Eldon to Prague in 2011. Austria is close to the Aquino sisters, the Lichaucos and the Psinakis.
After the trip, the source said the Inekon Group’s top management, aided by Yorgos Psinakis, nephew of Aquino businessman ally Steve Psinakis and presidential cousin Jorge Lichauco, made a visit to Manila in November 2011 where they met with then Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas and the management of MRT 3 to discuss Inekon’s plan to bid for the supply of coaches even as the project was still in its planning stage.
Psinakis, the “representative” of the Inekon Group in the Philippines, was supposedly a “good friend” of the Czech ambassador.
After the series of meetings between Inekon and officials of the then DoTC, on 24 April 2012 Psinakis wrote the department’s Undersecretary for Planning Rene Limcaoco and dropped the name of Jorge Lichauco to follow up for Inekon’s proposal.
Lichauco, son of the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino’s sister, Maur, then drafted his own terms of reference (ToR) for the bidding of the MRT 3 expansion project.
Lichauco’s ToR, had it been used in the bidding, would have effectively disqualified all other bidders except for Inekon.
However, as Lichauco was late in submitting his ToR, former MRT general manager Al Vitangcol had to stick to the original one which already been published in the DoTC website, enabling other suppliers with much lower bid prices to qualify.
That left Inekon with no recourse but to back off from the bidding since it virtually had no chance to win.
As Inekon had advanced some money to those facilitating the supply contract, it had to recoup its losses, thus the Rychtar exposé.
After a swift exchange between Malacañang, Rychtar and the Czech government, the ambassador made a U-turn and retracted his statement about Noynoy’s relatives and friends and limited his allegations to low-level officials of the Department of Transportation and an operator connected with the Liberal Party (LP).
Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, an Aquino appointee, only went as far as indicting Vitangcol and LP man Wilson de Vera, incorporator of PH Trams, in relation to the alleged shakedown.
At the height of the scandal, Malacañang led by then spokesman Edwin Lacierda fired volleys of accusations of a demolition job against Noynoy through the allegations of irregularities on his friends and relatives.
Coming from a diplomat, however, the allegations were hard to dispute and the scandal only quieted down after Rychtar changed his tune.
The defense from Malacañang was that the Psinakis referred to by Rychtar was not the member of the Lopez clan; it was another Greek who had deep ties with a minister of the Czech Republic who facilitated the meetings between the Czech and the Philippine governments for the MRT project.
Lacierda and the yellow defenders of Noynoy added that Ballsy and Eldon Cruz did travel to Prague sometime in 2011 upon the invitation of Rychtar, but only for a social event attended by representatives from the Czech government and business sector. “No business matters were discussed in the event,” the defense went.
The burning question then was what was the couple doing in what seems to be a government function in Prague and what was Rychtar’s motivation in inviting Ballsy and Eldon and later on linking both to the extortion try?
The Czech ambassador in changing his account said Roxas’ men asked some $2 million to $20 million from Inekon.
“Among those who investigated the allegations of Rychtar was then Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, also an LP kingpin, the reason why nothing came out of the probe.
The ambassador accused then Transportation Undersecretaries Jose Lotilla, Rene Limcaoco, Catherine Gonzales and Assistant Secretary Jaime Feliciano as involved in the big-time mulcting try.
Rychtar then indicated Inekon was blacklisted after rejecting the demand for a bribe.
Among those who investigated the allegations of Rychtar was then Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, also an LP kingpin, the reason why nothing came out of the probe.
Lacierda had said the National Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate, but apparently only at a certain level since only Vitangcol was implicated.
Inekon eventually lost the bid and the contract was granted to Chinese company Dalian Locomotive.
The Dalian coaches became notorious later on for not matching the specifications of trains that can be used on the MRT system. The P3.769-billion contract involved the supply of 48 light rail vehicles.
The trains will soon be used after some costly adjustments that Transportation Secretary Art Tugade said he would ask Dalian to reimburse. As the controversy transpired, Filipino commuters suffer and even risk their lives as a result of the anomaly.
The government owes it to commuters using the MRT daily to put a closure on allegations of yellow greed of the highest order as having caused the misery of inefficiencies in the supposed modern transport system.