Singapore court awards Marcos millions to PNB

Singapore's High Court has ruled that more than $23 million seized from the estate of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos rightfully belongs to a Philippine bank.

In a 77-page ruling obtained Thursday by AFP, Justice Andrew Ang dismissed the rival claims of the Philippine government, a group of human rights victims and five foundations believed to be Marcos fronts.

He ruled that the money -- deposited in the Singapore branch of German bank WestLB -- belongs to the now privately-owned Philippine National Bank (PNB).

"I am of the view that PNB holds legal title to the funds as trustee of the same," Ang said in his judgement issued Wednesday.

The funds, comprising $16.8 million and 4.2 million British pounds ($6.58 million), were part of the alleged illicit fortune that Marcos stashed away in various Swiss bank accounts.

Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, when he was overthrown by a popular revolt. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

He first governed as a democratically elected president but declared martial law in 1972, using military force to crush dissent.

Marcos and a circle of relatives and cronies allegedly amassed a fortune of up to $10 billion through graft and rigged business deals, much of it stashed overseas.

In 1998, Swiss authorities released deposits in Swiss banks to PNB, which in turn transferred the money to various banks in Singapore including WestLB, according to the ruling.

WestLB went to court in 2004 to determine the owner of the money after several groups staked claims.

Among the claimants was the Philippine government, which based its arguments on a 2003 ruling by the country's Supreme Court that the funds be forefeited in its favour.

But the Singapore judge ruled that the Philippine Supreme Court ruling could not be enforced in the city-state.

While he dismissed the claims of the human rights victims, the judge said he sympathised with their plight but the court "must act in a principled manner when dealing with such questions of law".

Despite numerous cases being filed in the Philippines, no member of the surviving Marcos family has been successfully prosecuted and they continue to live in luxury.

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