Philippine graft court hands family of former dictator another win

In ruling for Imelda Marcos, the special anti-graft court chastised government lawyers for their 'unjustified' absence at court hearings

A Philippine court said Tuesday it has thrown out a decades-old civil case against the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, dealing a fresh blow to a protracted effort to recover alleged ill-gotten wealth.

In ruling for Imelda Marcos, the special anti-graft court chastised government lawyers for their "unjustified" absence at court hearings and for submitting "mere photocopies" of documentary evidence that the judge rejected.

Filed shortly after Marcos fled to the US in exile following a bloodless 1986 "people power" revolt, the case sought to seize shares of stocks and real estate which it said were already worth millions of dollars at the time.

"The plaintiff... failed to prove by preponderance of evidence that the defendants by themselves, or in conspiracy with the defendants the Marcoses, obtained ill-gotten wealth," said the September 25 court ruling made public only Tuesday.

"Of course Madam Imelda is elated," said Robert Sison, lawyer for the now 90-year-old former first lady Imelda Marcos, one of the seven defendants.

Sison told AFP he expects the government to appeal the court verdict, adding his client is still facing more than a dozen similar cases.

Spokesmen for the Ombudsman, the special anti-graft prosecutor who filed the case, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

After Marcos was overthrown, the successor government accused his family of embezzling at least $10 billion from the national coffers during its 20-year rule and of using business cronies and secret foreign bank accounts to hide its assets.

Marcos' heirs returned to the Philippines and made a spectacular political comeback after the patriarch died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

His eldest daughter Imee won a Senate seat in May while the ex-president's son, also named Ferdinand Marcos, narrowly lost the 2016 vice presidential election contest, a result he is contesting in court.

The family's efforts to rehabilitate the Marcos patriarch's image received a boost with the 2016 election as president of political ally Rodrigo Duterte, whose government has publicly floated the idea of winding down the hunt into the family's wealth.

Despite public protests, Duterte allowed the Marcos remains to be interred at a National Heroes' Cemetery in Manila seven months after he won the presidency.

In a rare legal setback last year, a court sentenced Imelda Marcos to at least six years in prison for each of the seven charges that the Marcoses funnelled roughly $200 million of embezzled funds through Swiss foundations decades ago.

However, she remains free on bail after filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.