By KRISTEL SATUMBAGA
EJ Obiena revealed Tuesday he will seek legal help in proving his innocence involving the fund misuse allegations hurled against him by the Philippine Athletics Track and Field Association (Patafa).
“I will clear my name. I will raise all legal challenges and I want this to be put into a court of law where all evidence must be exposed,” Obiena said in a two-page statement posted on his social media accounts.
“I will complete the PWC audit and I will finalize my legal recourse avenues.”
The Olympian pole vaulter and world No. 5 said he is “personally shocked at the recent statement and shifting allegations of Patafa” from accusing him of embezzlement to timing of payments.
Though he admitted to having paid Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov late in the past, Obiena said it’s “a long way from embezzlement and theft that they accused me of.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but as far as I know, paying late isn’t a crime,” Obiena said.
Obiena reiterated he has repeatedly asked Patafa to pay his coaches directly and to stop requiring him to disperse all funds so that he could concentrate solely on his training and competitions abroad, but he has been turned down.
He has been based in Formia, Italy for the past years and has been joining European competitions throughout the season.
“I have admitted I struggle with the huge amount of paperwork I am required to do to be a paymaster to my team. I am alone in Italy, I train nine hours daily and I have no help,” Obiena said.
“When I am changing countries every 36 hours, I am sorry I can’t stop everything and reconcile all my finances… I am not an accountant. This is not a crime.”
Obiena also said Petrov denies having a signed written complaint submitted to Patafa and questioned the signed affidavit of Ukrainian Olympic Committee President Sergey Bubka.
“Given the allegations, there are only three parties that I believe matter: myself, Petrov and Patafa,” he said.
Obiena said he is willing “to make peace” in this case, but demanded his name be cleared of these allegations.
POC to create own probe team
Meantime, the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) has ordered its Ethics Committee to investigate the issue concerning pole vaulter EJ Obiena and his association – the Philippine Track and Field Association (Patafa).
POC President Bambol Tolentino said they regret the situation that Obiena is in after the Patafa ordered the Tokyo Olympian to return the 85,000 euro (around P4.8 million) worth of coaching fees.
Patafa alleged that Obiena misused the government funds intended for his Ukrainian coach Vitaly Petrov.
“We in the POC will be steadfast and for the sake of Olympism and impartiality, will go into details and investigate the matter,” Tolentino said in a statement.
“We are in deepest regret to realize that one of our Olympians, multi-medalist and great inspiration Ernest John Obiena of athletics, to be involved in this squabble with his home federation,” Tolentino said in a statement.
Patafa’s own committee is presently conducting a thorough and an in-depth investigation covering the issues at hand and will release as soon as practicable its findings and recommendations
Tolentino added the situation has put “a bountiful career in peril” after Obiena said he is willing to retire immediately if Patafa does not publicly apologize and retract the investigation on him.
The 26-year-old Tondo native currently holds the Asian record in the sport and has competed in the Tokyo Olympics with a current world ranking of No. 5.
“We could have easily propagated this achievement to the youth by proper guidance and genuine attitude,” Tolentino said. “I am very disappointed. They could have handled the situation internally absent of any misfires from both parties.”