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Philippine Court Freezes Assets of Ex-President Estrada - 2002-08-26

A court in the Philippines has ordered a freeze on properties and bank deposits of ousted president Joseph Estrada, who is on trial for corruption. Mr. Estrada is accused of amassing nearly $80 million in bribes and kickbacks before he was forced to step down one-and-a-half years ago.

The anti-corruption court, called Sandiganbayan, published the order Monday in Quezon City, near Manila. It orders a freeze on all the assets of former President Estrada as well as those of Jose Velarde, the false name prosecutors say he used to hide millions of dollars in bribes.

The order also freezes bank deposits of the Erap Muslim Youth Foundation, which was allegedly used as another front for illegally obtained wealth. Erap is the former president's nickname.

The order also covers houses and a bank account of two of Mr. Estrada's co-defendants, Yolanda Ricaforte and Charlie (Atong) Ang. Mr. Ang is currently fighting extradition from the United States.

Court spokesman Renato Bocar says the assets targeted are only a fraction of the millions Mr. Estrada is accused of embezzling. "This attachment will serve as a security for the satisfaction of any judgment, which may be recovered against the former president and those accused with him," said Mr. Bocar.

Mr. Estrada is being held without bail. His trial on charges of economic plunder began nearly one year ago. Mr. Bocar says prosecutors expect to wrap up their case in two months, but he does not know how long the trial will go on after that.

"We're not sure who the witnesses will be for the defense," said the court spokesman, "but we expect them to present their witnesses after the prosecution rests its case in October."

Mr. Estrada faces a possible death penalty if convicted of economic plunder. He has also been charged with perjury and illegal use of an alias to open bank accounts where prosecutors say he hid illegally obtained funds. The former president denies any wrongdoing and says he was ousted illegally from the presidency.