US indictment of Marcoses on racketeering charges just the start

When a federal grand jury brought criminal indictments against former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Friday, it was serving the appetizer. The indictments charged Mr. Marcos, his wife, Imelda, Saudi arms dealer and businessman Adnan Khashoggi, and seven associates with running a racketeering enterprise to embezzle more than $100 million from the Philippine government and use the money to buy artwork and three buildings in New York City. It also charged the group with fraudulently borrowing $165 million from four US banks to buy another city building.

While this sum is substantial, many people say it is merely gold dust next to the multibillion-dollar pots of gold that are believed hidden by the Marcoses around the world. The Marcos worth is estimated at from a few billion dollars to $15 billion.

The current case, if successful, would pry away no more than about $250 million from the Marcoses, according to one Justice Department lawyer. But, he says, it ``opens new avenues to more of Marcos's money.''

For one thing, the case provides a vehicle for new information to come out, says a government lawyer familiar with the case. ``People who were afraid to come forward may now testify,'' he says.

Congressional investigators say they believe Marcos has money or property in London, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Australia, France, and other West European countries, as well as the US and the Philippines.

Moreover, the prospect of a trial may persuade Marcos to cooperate and unearth more money. He had reportedly been refusing to talk to US prosecutors because he hoped that President Reagan, a longtime friend, would intervene.

Without that help, the former ruler may be more forthcoming and even plead guilty to avoid a jail sentence. ``His lawyers say no, but the gut feeling is yes,'' says Stanley Roth, an aide to Rep. Steven Solarz (D) of New York, who has held several hearings on Marcos's wealth.

The debt-ridden Philippine government is keenly interested in getting as much money from the former leader as it can, and the case filed Friday can help in several ways. First, any money the Marcoses have to forfeit under the racketeering law would be returned to the ``victims'' of the crime. On Friday, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh indicated that money would go to the Philippine government.

Second, says Edward Mannino, a lawyer in Philadelphia and an expert on the racketeering law, the New York case may help with the civil cases that have already been brought against Marcos by the Philippine government. In a civil suit in New York City, for example, the Philippine government alleges many of the same crimes cited in the US criminal case filed Friday.

``If you get a criminal conviction, you basically win the civil case,'' Mr. Mannino says. And under the racketeering statute, the court could then award the Philippines triple damages. Then, depending on what information comes out, the Philippines can file more civil suits and try for more treble awards.

The US case may also help with the cases in the Philippines. Currently there are 39 civil lawsuits against Marcos there. And earlier this month, the Philippine solicitor general said he would bring a criminal case within the next six months.

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