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Detained ex-Philippine leader faces new graft case

By Jim Gomez

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 5:13 a.m. HST, Jul 16, 2012

MANILA, Philippines >> Philippine prosecutors filed a non-bailable corruption charge Monday against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which she said was aimed at ensuring she remains in detention as she fights to be released on bail in a separate vote-tampering case.

Renato Bocar, executive clerk of the special Sandiganbayan anti-graft court, said the new plunder, or high-level corruption, complaint accuses Arroyo and nine other former government officials of misuse of 365 million pesos ($8.7 million) in state lottery funds from 2008 to 2010, when she stepped down from nine turbulent years in power.

The maximum penalty for plunder is life in prison, confiscation of stolen funds and disqualification from public office for life.

Arroyo’s lawyer, Anacleto Diaz, denied the charge, saying it was an effort by President Benigno Aquino III’s administration to keep her in detention and demonize her when he delivers his annual state of the nation address next week.

“This is another dark day for the rule of law,” Diaz said in a statement.

Left-wing Rep. Teddy Casino, one of the complainants, said the complaint accuses Arroyo and other officials of shifting lottery money into an intelligence fund which could no longer be traced.

Arroyo, once regarded as one of Asia’s most powerful women, was arrested and placed in hospital detention last year for allegedly ordering the tampering of 2007 elections to ensure victory for her candidates in a vote-rich and violent southern Philippine province controlled by a political ally.

She has denied the vote-tampering charge and has asked a suburban Manila court to free her on bail. Although the election sabotage charge also is non-bailable, the court could grant Arroyo bail in about two weeks if it rules that the evidence against her is weak.

The vote-tampering charge was the first of a number of criminal cases filed against Arroyo by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, who has blasted his predecessor’s leadership during years of corruption scandals, failed coup attempts and political unrest. Her trial in the vote-tampering case is expected to begin next month.

Aquino, the son of pro-democracy heroes, succeeded Arroyo in 2010 after winning a landslide victory on a promise to fight widespread corruption, poverty and misrule.

Arroyo and her camp have portrayed her prosecution as a political vendetta to destroy her reputation and mask a failure by Aquino to improve the lives of Filipinos, about a third of whom live on $1 a day.

The new corruption charge accuses Arroyo of conniving with officials of the Commission on Audit and the Philippines Charity Sweepstakes Office to use lottery funds “in the guise of fictitious expenditures for their personal gain and benefit,” Bocar said, citing case documents.

Arroyo, 65, has been writing her memoir in a military hospital where she is detained and is being treated for a bone ailment, spokeswoman Maria Elena Bautista-Horn said.   

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