Suspected drug lords Peter Lim, Kerwin Espinosa: What we know so far

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TRIAD CONNECTION. President Rodrigo R. Duterte shows a copy of a diagram showing the connection of high level drug syndicates operating in the country during a press conference at Malacañang on July 7, 2016.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 14) — More than a year after President Rodrigo Duterte revealed his list of the country's drug lords, the police filed a landmark case against some of them - only to be dismissed by government prosecutors for lack of evidence.

The Duterte administration, however, vowed it will not let the "big fish" get away.

Duterte said he himself will review the dismissal of charges against Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, Peter Co, and more than 20 others.

Lim and Co were among the country's "top three drug lords," Duterte said in July 2016, complete with a chart illustration of a purported drug trade network as part of the Chinese triad.

Espinosa, meanwhile, was named by the police as the top drug lord in the Eastern Visayas region.

His father, the late Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, landed on Duterte's list of politicians involved in the drug trade. He was killed in jail after surrendering to authorities.

In the complaint filed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Major Crimes Investigation Unit (CIDG-MICU), a lone witness said the Espinosas' supply of shabu came from Lim, Co, and alleged "drug queen" Lovely Impal.

The witness, Marcelo Adorco, claimed to be a close confidante of the Espinosas after meeting Kerwin in prison in 2011, and said he had followed orders to pick up and deliver shabu.

Inconsistencies in the details he mentioned, however, led to the prosecutors dismissing his testimonies as unreliable.

READ: DOJ prosecutors drop charges vs. Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim

Kerwin, 'No. 1 drug lord in Eastern Visayas'

For some senators, Kerwin Espinosa's admission during Senate hearings he was a drug dealer was more than enough to pin him down.

In one of the hearings that investigated his father's killing, Espinosa said he started his involvement in the illegal drug trade in 2004. He said he learned more about the business when he was jailed on drug charges and got transferred from the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center in Cebu City to the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa in 2008.

Espinosa told senators that high-profile inmate Peter Co was the first person inside the Bilibid to supply him with drugs.

"Ako'y natuto sa kalakaran paano magnegosyo ng shabu kahit nasa loob ako ng kulungan. Natuto ako paano mag-transaksyon," Espinosa said in a November 2016 hearing.

Translation: "I learned how to do the drug business even inside prison. I learned to transact."

He was released, only to be arrested again in Abu Dhabi over drug trafficking charges. He was repatriated in November 2016, detained in Camp Crame then transferred to the national headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation after a court order.

Espinosa in one of the Senate hearings also said he gave P8 million in drug money for then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in exchange for protecting his business. He also alleged De Lima used the money to fund her campaign in the 2016 senatorial polls, but the detained senator has repeatedly denied the allegations.

CIDG chief Roel Obusan said on Wednesday they could not use Espinosa's testimonies at the Senate as he had them retracted during the preliminary investigation.

Obusan said Espinosa was not cooperating, prompting him to ask Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to remove Espinosa from the Witness Protection Program.

Espinosa, meanwhile, said he never met Peter Lim, as Adorco alleged.

Peter Lim, Duterte's compadre

Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim tells President Rodrigo Duterte he is not involved in illegal drug activities in the country.

Lim is a Cebu-based businessman named by Duterte as part of a Chinese triad leading illegal drug operations in the Visayas.

It was later revealed that Lim was Duterte's compadre (co-sponsor) in a wedding. The Palace said it would be "unfair" to say it was because of this connection that Lim was cleared by prosecutors.

Lim met with Duterte in Davao City in July 2016. He denied being involved in the illegal drug trade, saying the "Peter Lim" also known as the drug lord "Jaguar" could be one of his many namesakes.

READ: Duterte meets suspected drug lord Peter Lim: ‘Sorry I cannot save you’

Adorco, however, in a video shown to him identified "Jaguar" as the bespectacled man who met with Duterte.

Adorco said he and Espinosa first met Lim in Thailand in 2014 or 2015.

When they came back to Manila, Adorco said he got 50 kilos of shabu from Lim. Espinosa had these distributed and got P2.2 million for each kilo sold, for a total of P110 million. Adorco said Espinosa and Lim had "more or less four transactions."

Lim in his counter-affidavit said he could not have met with Espinosa and Adorco in June 2015 - as Adorco alleged in an affidavit - because he was confined in a hospital due to a kidney problem.

The CIDG also disputed Lim's Filipino citizenship, saying he was born of Chinese parents. It said Lim's acquisition of a Philippine passport is proof of his "shady connections."

Peter Co, convicted drug lord

After several transactions through phone, Espinosa first met convicted drug lord Peter Co or Wu Tuan in 2014, when the latter was confined at the Metropolitan Medical Center in Manila, Adorco said.

The meeting supposedly happened through Lovely Impal, touted by police as a "drug queen" who supplied drugs to Espinosa. Adorco said Impal convinced Espinosa to go with her for fear of Co after failing to pay P10 million.

Co, however, said he never met Espinosa and was never confined at the said hospital.

During the controversial Bilibid raid in 2014, authorities said they seized documents of drugs transactions in the villa of Co. A signal booster was also found in Co's possession in July 2016, shortly after Co was named by Duterte as one of the top drug lords operating from prison.

In September 2016, Co was injured in a stabbing incident in Building 14 of the maximum security compound - where high-profile convicts are held. One inmate was killed, three others were wounded.

De Lima said the attack was meant to scare the inmates after they refused to testify against her in the House probe on alleged drug operations in the Bilibid, but the Justice Department said the violence was not politically motivated.

Meanwhile, Impal also denied ever transacting with Co or Espinosa.

Impal surrendered to authorities in September 2016 after her named was dropped by Espinosa in a Senate hearing. She said she feared for her life and denied Espinosa's allegations she was supplying shabu.

READ: 'Drug Queen' surrenders: PNP chief

Espinosa and the other respondents in the case are not off the hook as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre has created a new panel of prosecutors to review the drug charges.

They are facing charges of trading and distribution of dangerous drugs, which is punishable by life imprisonment under Section 5 of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.