US seeks to seize assets of woman in Philippines scam

Philippine businesswoman Janet Napoles, wearing a bullet-proof vest, takes an oath at a public hearing at the Senate in Manila on November 7, 2013 (AFP Photo/Jay Directo)

Washington (AFP) - The US Justice Department moved Tuesday to seize $12.5 million in assets of Janet Napoles, a businesswoman at the center of a broad Philippines corruption scandal dubbed the "pork barrel scam".

The department filed a civil forfeiture complaint to gain control of assets including a swank Los Angeles condominium, a motel near Disneyland, and a Porsche Boxster that Napoles bought for a daughter allegedly with money intended for development and disaster relief.

The complaint filed in the Los Angeles Federal District Court said Napoles paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to Philippine politicians and officials from 2004-2012 to get $200 million in funds which were supposed to help poor Filipinos.

The organizations Napoles ran did not deliver the services, and she took the money for her own personal use, the department said.

"The Justice Department will not allow the United States to become a playground for the corrupt or a place to hide and invest stolen riches," said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell in a statement.

The Department said Napoles moved $12 million to US accounts in the names of, or controlled by, her family, and used it to buy a condominium in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the motel, and other properties.

Napoles, already in jail in the Philippines for kidnapping her cousin in 2014, has been charged along with family members in the corruption case.

Last year she gave prosecutors a list of names implicating more than 100 people in the scandal, which resulted in the arrest of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, one of the Philippines's most powerful politicians; Senator Jose Estrada, son of a former president; and Senator Ramon Revilla, an action film star, among others.