Estrada struggles to avoid arrest over graft charges


MANILA, AFP

Deposed Philippines president Joseph Estrada filed a suit in the Supreme Court on Monday in a last-ditch bid to avoid possible arrest for alleged massive corruption.

The court had already ruled that Estrada was no longer president and thus could not invoke immunity.

The new filing asked the justices to reconsider their March 2 verdict, the court clerk said.

Corruption investigators are preparing possible indictments against former movie star Estrada, which could be delivered as early as next week, shortly before his 64th birthday.

A court-imposed stay from prosecution expires on Friday.

Estrada’s lawyer, Rene Saguisag said his aim in filing the motion was to “get a few dissenters” from the high court’s magistrates to reverse its earlier decision.

He said the motion “strongly questions” the Supreme Court’s use of the published diary of Estrada’s former chief aide in which Estrada was interpreted to have effectively taken steps to leave office. Estrada has insisted in public that he remains the country’s president.

The motion also argued that the use of news articles in framing decisions proved that “prejudicial publicity affects the Supreme Court.”

Estrada, in a radio interview earlier Monday, accused the government of applying pressure on the high court even as he noted that four magistrates had earlier had reservations on the ruling.

He said Angara’s diary was “baseless” and that he never explicitly said he was resigning. “What they are doing is harassment and trial by publicity,” he said.

Estrada also reiterated that he would not be leaving the country to escape prosecution.

Private lawyers and the justice department have filed at least 11 formal complaints of corruption against the former president, who was toppled in a popular revolt in January.

The cases allege that Estrada amassed about US$400 million in cash and other assets during his 30 months in office and kept the liquid assets in secret bank accounts concealed by fictitious names.

The other cases include allegations that Estrada took bribes from illegal gambling bosses, embezzled government funds, extorted money from businessmen, shielded friends from government regulators and took kickbacks from the illegal use of pension funds.