Archive for Wednesday, July 11, 2001

Ex-president of Philippines is charged with plunder

July 11, 2001

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— Ousted President Joseph Estrada was arraigned Tuesday on the capital offense of economic plunder a law he once championed to fight official corruption.

But Tuesday, Estrada's lawyers argued that the 1991 law is unconstitutionally vague and that the charge should be dropped.

The courts stood firm, however, on trying the former action film star, who is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks during his 31 months in office.

In another irony, Estrada was arraigned inside the imposing Sandiganbayan courthouse he had inaugurated as a symbol of his campaign against corruption.

One of his sons, Jinggoy, whose term as mayor of Manila's San Juan district expired June 30, was also arraigned on an economic plunder charge, along with attorney Edward Serapio.

When asked to stand, Estrada objected to references to him in the charge sheet as Asiong Salonga, a movie character he played, and Jose Velarde, a name he allegedly used in secret bank accounts. Estrada said he could be referred to as a former mayor, former senator, former vice president and president.

As in his arraignment on a perjury charge two weeks ago, Estrada did not enter a plea. The court justices entered a plea of innocent on his behalf and set a pretrial hearing for Sept. 3.

While plunder an offense for which no bail is permitted is punishable by death, there is little chance that the man who won a six-year term in 1998 with one of the largest margins in Philippine history would be executed if convicted.

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