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COLUMN ONE : An Actor's Close Ties to Marcos : The Philippine government's quest for missing funds leads to George Hamilton's former doorstep in Beverly Hills.

October 09, 1990|WILLIAM C. REMPEL and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For three decades, actor George Hamilton's associations with the rich and famous women of the world--from Lynda Bird Johnson to Vanessa Redgrave and Elizabeth Taylor--have landed his name in the pages of international glamour and gossip magazines.

Now, one of those prominent friendships, with deposed Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos, has put Hamilton in the middle of global legal disputes, precipitated threats against his life and made his former Beverly Hills mansion the object of a Manila government effort to recover some fraction of the billions of dollars stolen from its national treasury during the Marcos regime.

Over the years, Hamilton and Mrs. Marcos have traveled the world together, met the Pope together, even shopped together. They have wined, dined, danced and sung Imelda's favorite song, "Don't Fence Me In," together.

But previously sealed court documents and other financial records recently obtained by The Times further reveal that the actor and the widow of Ferdinand E. Marcos did business together--and that Hamilton was used, perhaps unwittingly, in the historic looting of the Philippine treasury by the Marcoses.

Marcos and his wife, accused in pending civil cases of using sophisticated schemes to convert billions of public dollars into private wealth during two decades in the presidential palace, funneled more than $12 million through Hamilton's personal accounts before they were ousted, according to court documents from Los Angeles and New York.

Hamilton, 51, used portions of the $12 million to finance a lavish house in Beverly Hills and launch a film development project. In a previously sealed deposition, the actor testified that he got the money from associates of the Marcoses, that he paid it back and that he had no knowledge that the Marcoses were personally linked to the funds.

However, investigators have discovered that the money eventually wound up back in the Marcoses' control outside the Philippines. And although the $12 million in Hamilton transactions represent only a fraction of the $5 billion that the Marcoses are suspected of bleeding from their nation's economy, the transactions are regarded by federal investigators as "typical Marcos deals."

Furthermore, The Times has learned, the former Hamilton house--a one-acre hillside estate in exclusive Benedict Canyon--is about to become property of the Philippine government. The settlement agreement, expected to be announced perhaps as early as next week, validates Manila's claims that the house, which Hamilton sold in 1986, was financed with looted Philippine funds.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles G. LaBella, a New York federal prosecutor involved in those settlement negotiations, said that the Marcoses used Hamilton as "a front" to move money.

But the actor's attorney, Arthur N. Greenberg, said Hamilton thought he was dealing with wealthy Philippine entrepreneurs and never knew that the millions of dollars he received came from his friends, the Marcoses.

"Maybe he was a tool for someone, an innocent," Greenberg said in an interview at his Century City office. "He would not knowingly participate in any transaction that has any taint."

Privacy Claim Lost

Hamilton declined to be interviewed for this story after his attorneys lost a strenuous legal battle to keep sealed hundreds of pages of records and testimony. He said the release would be a violation of his privacy. He also said that when he was linked to the Marcoses in the past, he received anonymous death threats.

U.S. Dist. Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer ordered the papers released last June, and a federal appeals court, calling the actor "a noted man-about-town" who should expect to be the object of publicity, rejected Hamilton's appeal. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor turned back his final appeal in late August.

In public testimony and in his previously sealed deposition, taken in 1987 as part of a Philippine government lawsuit against the Marcoses, the actor acknowledged only a social relationship with the Marcoses and repeatedly denied having any business links with the woman he commonly refers to as "Madam Marcos."

But the newly released court documents and other related records trace the $12 million from secret Marcos accounts in the Philippines, through Hamilton investments in the United States, to foreign banks and offshore shell companies associated with the Marcoses.

In one transaction, $5.5 million in U.S. currency, raised by the government-owned Philippine National Oil Co., was siphoned into an abortive Hamilton movie production on the wartime love life of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Eventually, Hamilton relinquished the money to a Hong Kong bank and the funds ended up in London, where a Filipino architect gave the $5.5 million to "two swarthy men" linked to Mrs. Marcos, according to investigators.

Additional Philippine funds financed Hamilton real estate investments, including a Mississippi plantation and his former Benedict Canyon home, built by screen legend Charlie Chaplin.

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