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Estrada Is Indicted on Corruption Charges

April 05, 2001|From Times Wire Services

MANILA — His legal options virtually gone, former President Joseph Estrada faced possible arrest after his indictment Wednesday for allegedly pocketing $82 million in kickbacks and payoffs.

The action by Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, a special prosecutor for corruption cases, came a day after the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Estrada's appeal of a ruling that stripped away his presidential immunity and denied his claim that he never really left office.

The former leader's wife and son also will be charged, Desierto said.

The eight charges include plunder--or stealing from the state--an offense that does not allow for release on bail. It is a capital crime, but execution of the once-popular film star is considered highly unlikely.

At his Manila home, Estrada maintained his innocence and called the charges "fabricated."

"I'm already convicted here through publicity, so how do you expect to get a fair trial under this administration?" he said.

"I was born here, I lived here, I'll die here. I'll never leave the country."

Other charges against Estrada include violation of the anti-graft law, misuse of public funds, perjury and illegal use of an alias.

Desierto said the money allegedly "plundered" by Estrada includes more than $60 million in a secret bank account under an alias, $10.9 million in payoffs from illegal gambling, $2.6 million in kickbacks from a tobacco excise tax and $3.78 million in commissions from a stock sale using state pension funds.

The special prosecutor said Estrada's son Jinggoy--the mayor of the town of San Juan near Manila--also will be charged with plunder, along with businessman Charlie "Atong" Ang, Estrada lawyer Edward Serapio and other associates of the former president.

Desierto said he will charge Estrada's wife, Luisa Ejercito--who is running for the Senate next month--with accepting kickbacks.

The Philippine anti-graft court must decide if the charges are sufficient for an arrest warrant.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose popularity has risen since she was hastily sworn in Jan. 20 as Estrada was packing to leave the presidential palace, has made clean government a top priority.

Estrada was the focus of a six-week Senate impeachment trial aborted in January when senators voted against opening a sealed envelope that prosecutors alleged would tie Estrada to a multimillion-dollar bank account.

The Senate vote was followed by mass protests demanding that Estrada resign, culminating when he abandoned the palace. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that Estrada had in effect resigned.

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