Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada found guilty of plunder

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Former Philippine President Joseph "Erap" Ejercito Estrada was found guilty by the Sandiganbayan (anti-graft court) for plunder but found him not guilty on a count of perjury.

The Philippines’ 13th President was arrested in April 2001 after being ousted in a peaceful revolution in January of the same year for allegedly amassing US$ 85 million (PhP 46=US$) from kickbacks and for failure to declare his true assets and liabilities as a requisite for any public elected or appointed official.

After almost six years of trial, Estrada faces a lifetime of imprisonment or at least 40 years in prison.

The former president's son, Senator Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada and personal lawyer Edward S. Serapio who also faced similar charges of plunder and perjury were proclaimed not guilty.

A special division of the anti-graft court was created to specifically hear the case of Estrada and found beyond reasonable doubt that the former President was guilty of plunder.

The court's decision stated that Estrada received money from illegal gambling and collected commissions from the sale of publicly listed Belle Corp. shares.

The court stated that it found not enough evidence to tie Estrada to charges of misappropriating tobacco excise taxes and amassing wealth deposited in the so-called "Jose Velarde" account.

The 262-page decision stated that, "The predicate acts alleged [in the two cases] were linked by the fact that they were plainly geared towards a common goal which was the accumulation of ill-gotten wealth ... and that they shared a pattern or a common method of commission which was the abuse or misuse of the high authority or power of the presidency."

As a result of the court's decision, the state will forfeit Mr. Estrada’s accounts that includes P545.29 million (US$11.5 million) credited to the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation and the P189-million (US$ 4.10 million) Velarde account, including the so-called Boracay Mansion in New Manila, Quezon City.

Estrada, who was also a popular movie actor said in an interview after the verdict that the three person panel of judges of the anti-graft court were "pressured" to ensure the legitimacy of the incumbent administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Mrs. Arroyo assumed the office of the President on January 20, 2001 when a peaceful uprising forced Mr. Estrada to step down from office.

The 70-year-old former President declared this Sunday that his lawyers will appeal should the court find him guilty and he is prepared to face incarceration. Estrada added that he will not ask for any form of pardon from incumbent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who assumed office when Estrada was ousted.

Mr. Estrada proclaimed before members of media after the verdict was read saying, "I submitted myself to the rule of law when I allowed the impeachment proceedings against me to take its course. I did not resort to influence, the trial nor to any acts that may constitute obstruction of justice, whitewash or cover-ups."

The former president re-emphasized his position that he will never ask for any form of pardon from Mrs. Arroyo's administration and he was prepared to serve his sentence at the National Penitentiary among the common people with no special privileges.

Estrada, has been on detention by virtue of a "house arrest" at his rest house at Tanay in Rizal Province, east of the capital Manila.

"I am at peace with myself notwithstanding the guilty verdict because you, my beloved countrymen, have overwhelmingly acquitted me," Estrada added.

The Philippine government placed the entire military and police on its highest level of alert, more than a week ahead in preparation for the Estrada verdict.

Traffic around the anti-graft court was re-routed and classes from among nearby schools were also suspended to pre-empt any possible security problems resulting from pro-Estrada supporters.

On May 1, 2001, thousands of Estrada supporters amassed before Malacañan Palace to protest the incarceration of the former President and attempted to unseat Mrs. Arroyo to restore Estrada.

The office of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appealed before the public to "let the rule of law prevail."

Mrs. Arroyo stated during a speech before a mix group of delegates at the Presidential palace calling for "peace and reconciliation" after the verdict has been rendered.

The president has also called for an end on "political drama," to allow the country's economy progress to move forward with no fear from political instability.

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