Manila: The presidential palace welcomed the indictment, in absentia, of ‘pork barrel queen’ Janet Lim-Napoles in a US court. The action by the federal grand jury bolsters the Philippine government’s case against her, the palace said.

‘Pork barrel’ is a metaphor for the appropriation of government spending for localised projects secured primarily to bring money to a representative’s district.

In a statement, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the US federal grand jury indictment against Lim-Napoles, “is a positive development, as it bolsters the government’s case against her before the Sandiganbayan [anti-graft court].”

The 54-year-old Lim-Napoles has been detained by the government since 2014 for allegedly orchestrating the diversion of billions of pesos in development funds allotted for lawmakers. She was indicted by the US Federal Grand Jury in California on July 31, on the charge of illegally transmitting to the United States and vice versa, more than $20 million (approximately Dh73,450,000).

Also included in the money laundering charge was her daughters Jo Christine and Jean Catherine, and son James Christopher Lim-Napoles.

The four defendants, together with about 20 legislators and other government officials, converted to their own benefit hundreds of millions of public funds through the intricate ploy and then transmitted approximately $20 million from that scheme to the US, to purchase assets including real property and luxury vehicles.

“The charge of money laundering against Mrs. Napoles and her co-defendants shows that there is reason to believe that they attempted to retain the ill-gotten gains from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam,” Roque said.

The PDAF is a discretionary fund allotted to Senators and members of the House of Representatives. In 2013, Philippine media broke the news that the allocation is being used by the lawmakers to line their own pockets instead of spending it to alleviate the plight of their constituents.

“As more of Lim-Napoles’ schemes come to light, it becomes imperative to charge all those who illegal profited from her transactions, regardless of their position or political affiliation,” Roque said.

Napoles is currently detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. She had previously asked the Supreme Court to stop her indictment in the PDAF cases but her petitions were dismissed.

Her family could be put on trial in the United States for money laundering but the cases against their mother need to be settled first in the Philippine courts.

Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that the government cannot extradite Lim Napoles to the US until her cases in Philippine courts have been terminated. Nevertheless, he said, the justice department “will extend all assistance to its US counterpart in prosecuting the money laundering cases, and in ensuring the people’s money is returned in due time to our national treasury.”