MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A wealthy businesswoman at the center of a corruption scandal has surrendered to Philippine President Benigno Aquino III three days after a large protest in Manila to condemn large-scale graft allegations in a country long mired in poverty.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said he picked up Janet Lim-Napoles, who was accompanied by her lawyer, late Wednesday at a cemetery. She was then brought to the Malacanang presidential palace to briefly meet Aquino before being turned over to police. Her lawyer said she had received death threats and wanted to be assured of her safety.
Napoles has been accused of illegally detaining a former aide who accused her of stealing huge amounts of government development funds, derisively called pork-barrel funds, in conspiracy with powerful lawmakers. She has denied any wrongdoing but was ordered arrested by authorities, with Aquino announcing a 10 million peso ($227,000) bounty for her capture.
Media reports of her lavish lifestyle, including the alleged ownership of an array of elegant houses and condominiums, have angered many Filipinos in a country where nearly a third of the 97 million people live on a little over a dollar a day, and about a tenth have left the country in search of jobs and better opportunities abroad.
Amid outrage expressed on social media, tens of thousands of Filipinos massed up at Manila’s Rizal Park on Monday to demand the scrapping of the corruption-tainted development fund and called on Aquino to crack down harder on corruption. Aquino, son of revered pro-democracy champions, rose to power in 2010 with a landslide victory on a promise to fight corruption and poverty.
It was one of the largest rallies seen in the Philippines since the huge protests that hounded Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who faced allegations of massive corruption. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing but has been detained in a hospital on corruption and election fraud charges.
Lacierda told reporters that Aquino wanted to make sure Napoles was brought to court and that the truth was revealed.
“She has become a symbol of what we were so angry at last Monday,” Lacierda said. “By bringing her to us … and voluntarily surrendering her to the president, now the process of finding the truth can begin in earnest.”
Police released mug shots of Napoles taken at national police headquarters, where she spent the night. A local court ordered her transfer to a jail in the capital’s financial district of Makati city.