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Billions in ill-gotten Marcos money could be lost

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    Billions of dollars allegedly stashed by deceased Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos may be forfeited if it isn’t found soon, officials warned. Above, Rep. Imelda Marcos, the dictator’s widow, waved after taking the oath of her newly elected office yesterday in Manila.

MANILA » Billions of dollars allegedly stolen by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies remain hidden in accounts abroad and time is running out to recover it, officials warned yesterday.

Marcos was accused of corruption, political repression and widespread human rights abuses during his 20-year rule. A nonviolent "people power" revolt toppled him in 1986 and sent him and his family to exile in Hawaii, where he died in 1989. The Marcoses have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government, an agency tasked with recovering assets for the government, has so far identified $6.98 billion in ill-gotten wealth.

But Camilio Sabio, outgoing chairman of the commission, said the governments’ Swiss lawyers have documents that show there are still "ill-gotten assets in various countries abroad easily worth billions and billions of U.S. dollars."

He mentioned specifically funds in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Other sources have also indicated that there is wealth squirreled away in Austria, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom.

The lawyers have warned that time is running out to recover any more money out there. In many countries, accounts that are dormant for 30 years are forfeited to the state where they are located, said Jaime Bautista, another official with the commission.

Several countries, including Switzerland and the United States, ordered a freeze on Marcos accounts when he was booted from power 24 years ago. That would mean the government has only six more years to hunt down money stashed in those countries, Bautista said.

"The assumption is that if those accounts are in Switzerland, they would have to be dormant because anybody touching them will be guilty of money laundering," he said.

About $1.84 billion has been recovered and remitted to the national treasury. Another $3.78 billion in assets are under litigation and $410 million in property and jewelry are still to be sold. In addition, $35 million, excluding interest, is still held by Merrill Lynch in the U.S. and $25 million, plus interest, in an account in Singapore.

Sabio said the return to power of Marcos’ widow, Imelda Marcos, and two of their children after election victories last month may affect efforts to run after their assets.

Imelda Marcos won a seat in the House of Representatives and her eldest daughter, Imee, also a former member of Congress, was elected governor in the family’s northern bailiwick, Ilocos Norte province. Her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., former governor and member of Congress, won a Senate seat.

Marcos’ widow and his son took their oaths of office yesterday before a member of the Supreme Court.


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