A dictator on trial

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos face the law

JOHN BIERMAN October 31 1988

A dictator on trial

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos face the law

JOHN BIERMAN October 31 1988

A dictator on trial



Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos face the law

Many during enemies his tenure of Ferdinand as Philippine Marcos, president, claimed that he earned his money the old-fashioned way: by stealing it. Officials in Manila charged that during his 20 years in power, he plundered up to $12 billion from his poverty-stricken country. Measured against sums of that magnitude, the amount that he and his wife, Imelda, 59, were accused of stealing—in a New York federal grand jury indictment handed down last Friday—was modest: $123 million. Still, larger amounts were cited in the massive indictments that crowned a 2V2-year investigation led by Manhattan federal attorney Rudolph Giuliani. They included racketeering that enabled the Marcoses to amass $322 million and bank frauds totalling $198 million. Indicted along with the Marcoses were eight associates, including Saudi Arabian arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, once known as one of the world’s richest men. Said a triumphant Giuliani as he released details of the indictments: “No one is above the law.” During their years in power—1966-1986— said Giuliani, the Marcoses accumulated millions through embezzlement, theft, bribes and kickbacks, then illegally moved “massive amounts” into the United States. There, he said, they invested much of it in real estate, acquiring office buildings in blue-chip Manhattan districts and concealing the ownership through false documents. Even after they fled to America, following Corazon Aquino’s socalled people’s power revolution, they allegedly continued their illegal activities. Now the Marcoses could face not only the confiscation of properties but jail sentences of up to 20 years each on the main racketeering charge.

They might have avoided indictment—and a public trial—if they had accepted a plea bargain offered by the justice department. Under that arrangement, officials said, they could have pleaded guilty to racketeering and handed back hundreds of millions of dollars to the Philippines. And official sources in Manila said that the pending trial could prove to be a political time bomb. While in power, Marcos had been an ally and close friend of President Ronald Reagan. And although Reagan will almost certainly have left the White House before Marcos comes to trial, Vice-President George Bush—who also enjoyed a close relationship with Marcos—may well have succeeded him. “Marcos might say funny things about Reagan and Bush,” said a prominent Manila law official. He was referring to published reports about Marcos’s alleged contributions to Republican party campaign funds and to business deals with unnamed

individuals close to the Reagan administration. But U.S. officials pointed out that Reagan himself had cleared the way for the indictment of the Marcoses by indicating last Thursday that he would not intervene to stop it. Answering reporters’ questions, Reagan denied that he had promised Marcos blanket immunity when he gave him sanctuary in Hawaii after the

Philippines revolution. And the following day, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that, while he knew that Reagan regretted the indictments, “at this point, we expect the justice system to take its course.”

At week’s end, the Marcoses remained behind the high walls of their luxurious residence in Hawaii. “We are confident we will be vindicated,” Marcos said in a statement. Their principal lawyer, Richard Hibey, said that they would comply with orders to appear in New York City on Oct. 31 and would plead innocent to the charges against them. But Hibey noted that Ferdinand Marcos, who has

been treated in hospital for unspecified ailments, is in delicate health and a trip to New York might further endanger his condition. Throughout their exile, the Marcoses have asserted their innocence. “We stole nothing,” Imelda Marcos told a Maclean ’s correspondent who interviewed them a few months after they moved to Hawaii. “We have taken nothing.” Although modest by comparison with their standards while living in Manila’s Malacañang Palace, the Marcoses’ lifestyle in Hawaii remains decidedly lavish. Their 12-room villa— owned by their codefendants, Bienvenido and Gliceria Tantoco and valued at $4.8 million— has a swimming pool and three acres of lush tropical garden overlooking the splendid panorama of Honolulu and Diamond Head. But the apparent fear of assassination has limited their movements. They are constantly accompanied

by bodyguards, and Marcos himself rarely leaves the

compound. And for security

reasons, their three children—two of whom live on

the mainland and the third

in Morocco—rarely visit.

“The family is spread out

because of the nature of the

situation,” Marcos told

Maclean ’s. “We are not going to be wiped out by a

single grenade.”

Like the Marcoses, Kha-

shoggi was not immediately

for comment. He

is alleged to have acted as a

front for the Philippine cou-

pie, pretending to own the

Manhattan properties ƒ hat

million of stolen art

works—while the Marcos

fortune was under investi-

gation by U.S. and Philip-

pines officials. The indictments are a

series of misfortunes for

Khashoggi. During the

contacts with the Saudi

Arabian royal family helped

him to orchestrate business

^6a^S t^lat ma(^e him a multi-

he was named as one of the

figures in the 1986 Iran-

contra scandal, his fortunes were in decline. He had fallen out of favor with the Saudi royals, and his business empire was unravelling. In the United States, his Triad America Corp. has filed for bankruptcy, claiming $228 million in debts.

Unlike the Marcoses, Khashoggi was abroad when the indictments were handed down last week—and presumably out of reach of the courts. But for him, as for the Marcoses, the good times could well be over.

Ben Barber