NEW YORK — Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos was acquitted Monday of all federal fraud and racketeering charges stemming from allegations that she helped loot her country.
Jurors called the government's case inadequate, and some were apparently convinced that political factors influenced the prosecution. The case was tried "on the wrong side of the ocean," one said.
Saudi businessman Adnan Khashoggi, a co-defendant on fraud and obstruction of justice charges, also was acquitted on all counts.
A courtroom packed with Marcos loyalists erupted in cheers and tears as the three-month trial of the dictator's widow came to a dramatic end on her 61st birthday. She stood crying as the jury forewoman answered "not guilty" to each of the four counts.
Mrs. Marcos said that she was grateful to the American jury system "for my vindication." She left immediately for St. Patrick's Cathedral, where she walked on her knees down the center aisle to the altar, bowed her head to the floor and prayed.
She had hoped that the verdict also would indicate vindication of her late husband, ousted Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
But some members of the jury told reporters after the verdict was announced that there was little sympathy for the former Philippine dictator in the jury room.
"If Ferdinand Marcos was present in this trial, the jury would have convicted him," said juror Theodore Kutzy. And juror Sandra Albert, a paralegal, said that the government "had nothing on her and everything on her husband. He should have been the one on trial."
The former President, who was accused of looting his nation and indicted along with his wife in 1988, died last fall.
A spokeswoman for the Philippine government expressed regret about the verdict but said the trial had "clearly established before the world . . . what the Marcos regime was all about--unbridled corruption and total abuse of power."
Still, Mrs. Marcos' innocent verdict came as a blow to the U.S. and Philippine governments, which had worked closely in prosecuting the unprecedented case. Her acquittal also posed potentially serious political difficulties for the Administration of President Corazon Aquino.
Immediately there were calls from Marcos supporters--even in the courthouse hallways--to let her return to the Philippines to bury her dead husband who lies entombed in Hawaii. However, the Philippine government said that she would not be allowed to return.
Members of Aquino's Presidential Commission on Good Government, created to help track down billions of dollars in wealth believed stolen from the Philippines by Marcos, worked on the federal prosecution as legal advisers, auditors and liaison with the Manila government.
Mrs. Marcos still faces a number of major court challenges, including the massive civil suit filed by the Philippine government in Los Angeles federal court. That suit, which was expected to go to trial as soon as the criminal case ended, seeks to recover some of the estimated $5 billion that the Manila government claims was looted from its treasury by the Marcos regime.
Additional civil suits involving Mrs. Marcos and Philippine efforts to recover assets also are pending in New York and Switzerland.
Defense attorneys criticized the criminal case as "a political prosecution." Gerry Spence, an attorney for Mrs. Marcos, said the Justice Department pressed the criminal charges to curry favor with the Manila government to protect the U.S. interest in military bases there.
He argued before jurors that Aquino may have forced the indictment by insisting: "No prosecution, no bases."
Such claims seemed to trouble some members of the jury panel, which was composed of seven women and five men.
"We are not big brothers to people overseas," said juror Thomas O'Rourke. He said the case was tried "on the wrong side of the ocean."
Several jurors said they thought the case should have been dropped after Marcos became ill and died.
"They have made his poor wife miserable," said O'Rourke, expressing a degree of sympathy that turned out to be common among the panel.
The Marcos and Khashoggi verdicts came during the fifth day of jury deliberations, shortly after Mrs. Marcos returned from noon Mass at the nearby St. Andrew's Catholic Church, where she had prayed daily since the jury began considering her case.
Two of her children, Ferdinand Jr. (Bongbong) and Irene Araneta, sat in the audience surrounded by well-wishers. They were instantly wrapped in joyful embraces when the first "not guilty" was read.
As the jury filed out, the audience began to cheer again despite Judge John Keenan's admonitions not to demonstrate. And the chamber burst into unrestrained applause when defense attorney Spence raised both arms high over his head in a triumphant salute to the departing jurors.
Mrs. Marcos, whose health had been a source of constant concern to Keenan, was ushered into a back room where she conferred privately with family members, close aides and her attorneys.