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Corruption Trial of Former Philippine President Closes

The long-running corruption trial of former Philippine president Joseph Estrada has ended, and the country now awaits a verdict in the high-profile case. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong on the trial that has come to symbolize the Philippines' fight against graft.

It took over seven hours for defense and prosecution lawyers to finish their final arguments Friday in the corruption trial of the former president.

Mr. Estrada is accused of embezzling $80 million in public funds and amassing illegal gambling pay-offs during his presidency from 1998 until his ouster in 2001.

Government prosecutors presented more than 600 pages of evidence, including testimony from 76 witnesses.

Chief government prosecutor Dennis Villa Ignacio argues that the trial is what he calls the last opportunity for the Philippines to show that corrupt officials, no matter how powerful, are not above the law. He says the prosecution has presented sufficient evidence for the former president's conviction.

But Rufus Rodriguez, one of Mr. Estrada's lawyers, countered that the prosecution has failed to prove its case. "They were given all the time. They have voluminous records but they never showed evidence against the president," he said. "So, legally, the counsel will give the salient points of the argument that there is no evidence against him, so acquittal is due."

A verdict is expected as early as September.

If convicted, Mr. Estrada would be the first former Philippine leader to be found guilty of corruption and could face life imprisonment.

Mr. Estrada has repeatedly denied the charges. On Friday, he said the case against him has no basis and is all about politics.

Mr. Estrada, a former movie actor, insists that he was illegally removed from office. He has been under house arrest since 2001 but he remains a popular figure.