SC upholds Imelda's acquittal over wealth stashed in Swiss accounts

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
SC upholds Imelda's acquittal over wealth stashed in Swiss accounts
In March 2008, Manila court judge Silvino Pampilo Jr. has ruled that the state prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Marcos committed “dollar salting” or had stashed away $863 million in Swiss Bank accounts when their family was in power.
File photo

MANILA, Philippines —The Supreme Court has upheld the acquittal of former First Lady Imelda Marcos in a case of stashing ill-gotten wealth in a Swiss account, saying there was not enough evidence to show the judge handling it was biased.

The SC’s Third Division, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, denied the late Solicitor General Frank Chavez’s plea questioning Manila Judge Silvino Pampilo’s refusal to inhibit from the case.

The high court also had strong words for the prosecution in the case: “Apathetic prosecution allows impunity.”

“The prosecution could have done better in this case. Sadly, it failed,” the ruling dated June 27 also read.

Trial court case

In March 2008, Pampilo ruled that prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Marcos committed “dollar salting” or had stashed away $863 million in Swiss bank accounts when their family was in power.

Dollar-salting is when dollars are removed from the Philippines without Central Bank approval and transferred to an offshore account.

“The prosecution presented inadmissible evidence,” the judge told The STAR in an interview.

“After a careful, judicious scrutiny of the records and the evidence in these cases, this Court finds that the State was not able to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, the State’s evidence having been based on hearsay.”

Marcos was acquitted only in the criminal case. The forfeiture proceedings for the funds are separate and being handled by the Sandiganbayan, Pampilo clarified.

READ: Imelda cleared by RTC on 32 counts of dollar salting

The ousted dictator's widow was teary-eyed when she welcomed the decision. In the STAR report, she was depicted as wearing a green dress with matching jewelry.

Marcos, along with Roberto Benedicto – who has passed away – and Hector Rivera were accused of unlawfully opening 11 dollar accounts in Switzerland under the names of 10 foundations linked to the Marcos family to hide alleged ill-gotten wealth.

The money has been frozen by the government and is being held in escrow at the Philippine National Bank.

Chavez’s petition

The prosecution, in the RTC case, presented several documents on the Swiss deposits. They presented Chavez and Presidential Commission on Good Government Commissioner Caesario del Rosario to testify on the documents.

The prosecution had requested for rescheduling of the trial due to conflicts, but Pampilo denied them. The former solicitor general accused Pampilo of bias for Imelda Marcos.

Even before the Manila court promulgated the decision on the case, Chavez sought a preliminary injunction before the CA.

The CA granted Chavez’s prayer for writ of preliminary injunction but the appellate court later threw out the petition for certiorari as it held that “Judge Pampilo’s alleged bias was not sufficiently substantiated.”

In ruling on the case in March 2008, the court acquitted Marcos as Pampilo said that Chavez’s and del Rosario’s testimonies are only hearsay.

SC ruling

The SC said that it “will not require a judge to inhibit himself in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to overcome the presumption that he will dispense justice in accordance with law and evidence.”

On the scheduling of trials, the SC said that it “cannot assume bias or arbitrariness based on the denial of requests of postponement.”

“This Court will also not allow itself to become an instrument to paper over fatal errors done by the petitioner and the prosecution in the lower court,” Leonen added.

The tribunal also pointed out that it was not Chavez who signed the documents—presented as evidence—in court, and his testimony “would have been of little evidentiary value.”

“The claim that his testimony would have saved the prosecution’s case is baseless,” Leonen also said.

Leonen also noted that the case is important for the government but “it appears that the government’s resolve to prosecute has been lackadaisical, to say the least.”

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