Philippine tycoon Tan wins battle to keep fortune

Philippine billionaire Lucio Tan has won a decades-long legal battle to keep the fortune he built up during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, according to his lawyer.

An anti-graft court ruled on Wednesday that the government's 1987 seizure of some 22 billion pesos (about $520 million at current exchange rates), was illegal, lawyer Estelito Mendoza said in a statement.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government froze the assets, which included beer, tobacco and banking firms, shortly after Marcos was deposed, alleging in court Tan conspired with the dictator to acquire them illegally.

Mendoza said Tan, an ethnic Chinese tycoon ranked by Forbes as the second-richest Filipino with an estimated fortune of $3.5 billion, hoped the ruling would finally end the government's campaign against him.

"It is (Tan's) hope that with this decision of the Sandiganbayan (court), the (government) will relent in its effort to lay claim to his assets and in restricting the exercise of full rights over those properties," Mendoza said.

The assets include Fortune Tobacco, a dominant player in the local cigarette market, Asia Brewery, the country's number-two beer manufacturer, and Allied Banking, a mid-ranking domestic lender.

Tan retained controlled of these companies during the sequestration but could not sell or merge the firms.

The 77-year-old has always denied that he received favours from Marcos, who was toppled in a bloodless "people power" revolt in 1986 and died in US exile three years later.

One of the first acts of the government that succeeded Marcos was to form the wealth commission to recover up to $10 billion in state assets allegedly stolen by the dictator and his associates.

However successive governments have largely failed in their efforts, with local courts frequently ruling in favour of the cronies, many of whom have remained extremely powerful political and business figures.

Last year another Marcos ally, Eduardo Cojuangco, an uncle of the current president, also beat government efforts to take back his shares in San Miguel Corporation, one of the country's largest conglomerates.

Tan had also got the anti-graft court to lift the sequestration twice previously, Mendoza said.

Presidential Commission on Good Government spokesman Nick Suarez told AFP the government could again appeal the latest ruling, although no decision had yet been made.

"The commission is still studying all available options as to what course of action it would take," Suarez said.

The freeze orders against Tan did not include Philippine Airlines and Philippine National Bank, which he acquired from the government after the fall of Marcos.

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