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3 Filipino tourists in fake US$5B bank draft freed, but denied costs

18 September 2018

Free again! Elmer Martinez, Eric Jude Soliman and Elmer Soliman
with a friend (in pink shirt) after retrieving their belongings from Central Police station

By Vir B. Lumicao

Three Filipino male tourists earlier accused in Eastern Court of trying to pass off a fake US$5billion bank draft as genuine were released on Tuesday afternoon after the prosecution withdrew its case against them for insufficient evidence.

But Magistrate Peter Law, saying he suspected a money laundering attempt, rejected the application of the lawyer for defendants Elmer Soliman, 57, and his son Eric Jude Soliman, 31, for “substantial” court costs as a result of the botched case.

Undeterred, the older Soliman told The SUN they were thinking of filing a claim for damages .

“Sinabi ng abogado namin, he will pursue” (the case), he said.

The father and son as well as the third defendant, Eliseo Martinez, 43, a municipal lawyer in Victoria, Tarlac, walked free around 2pm from the courthouse in Sai Wan Ho and went straight to the Immigration offices in Wanchai to apply for a visitor’s visa.

But the Immigration officer who attended to them gave them only until Sept 20, or two days, to remain in Hong Kong. The officer also handed each of them a document that they have to give to the Immigration officer at the airport when they leave for home.

Martinez, who expressed relief after being released by the court, said all he wanted to do was to find a place to sleep so he could recover from the experience and wake up with a clear mind the next day.

His wife, who was due to arrive in Hong Kong on Sept 19, reportedly cried in relief when told of her husband’s release in a phone call with his fellow Freemason Pieter Nootenboom.
The 3 accused with supporter and friend Pieter Nootenboom take a break after clearing Immigration
In court, the prosecutor told Magistrate Law that she was withdrawing the charge of “using a false instrument” against all three defendants due to insufficient evidence.

She acknowledged that the defendants went to HSBC in Central on June 25 merely to verify whether the bank draft in question was genuine.

All three were arrested by the police after they handed over the bank draft at the service counter.

After the case was withdrawn, the defense lawyer said he was asking for costs for the Solimans.

“The defendants were at the bank merely to verify whether the bank draft was genuine,” he said.

But Law rejected the application, saying the case also involved money laundering.

“When you go to the bank with a huge amount, in this case five thousand million US dollars, that is money laundering,” Law said.

Outside court, the elder Soliman said the charge that he was trying to open a bank account to deposit the bank draft was not true.

“We were not there to open an account. It was the bank staff who told that to the police,” he said.

He said he and his son would just rest overnight and decide by tomorrow if they will pursue the civil case.

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