Marcos' Wife Also Pleads 5th in Probe

Times Staff Writer

Crying and clutching a rosary, Imelda Marcos took the Fifth Amendment more than 200 times on Wednesday when Philippine government attorneys questioned her under oath on allegations that she and her husband stole billions of dollars from the national treasury to amass a personal fortune during their two decades in power.

The former Philippine first lady's refusal to answer hundreds of questions on subjects ranging from her huge jewelry collection to allegations that she diverted American aid funds to her personal use while serving as governor of Manila and head of the Philippine Economic Support Council came just 24 hours after her husband, deposed President Ferdinand E. Marcos, invoked his Fifth Amendment right 197 times during a similar deposition.

Wearing a scarlet gown in the oceanfront dining room in their home of exile in Honolulu's fashionable Kahala district, Imelda Marcos broke down and cried when asked whether she and the former Philippine president have an ownership interest in a nearby Honolulu mansion where the couple stayed for a brief time after fleeing Manila.

Testimony Recorded

Imelda Marcos' more than four hours of testimony were videotaped and recorded by an official court reporter under a recent ruling by U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where the Philippine government has sued the Marcoses to recover at least $2 billion it claims the couple diverted for their own use during Marcos' 20 years in power.

Attorneys for the new government of Philippine President Corazon Aquino asked Imelda Marcos a battery of questions about documents they introduced in evidence showing that the former first lady used two aliases--Jane Ryan and John Lewis--to open Swiss bank accounts early in her husband's tenure in office.

On the advice of her personal attorneys, she again invoked her right against self-incrimination when asked about documents indicating she and her husband had diverted millions of dollars from then-President Marcos' official "intelligence fund"--money the documents indicate Imelda Marcos used to purchase millions of dollars worth of jewelry while on official visits to New York City and to finance her daughter's college education at Princeton University.

Prime Suspects in Killing

When asked who planned the 1983 assassination of Aquino's husband, former Philippine Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Imelda Marcos' lawyers intervened and barred her from answering the questions. President Aquino has said the Marcoses are chiefly responsible for the assassination, but no criminal charges have been filed against them.

In its original lawsuit against the Marcoses, the Philippine government charged that Imelda Marcos, together with her husband, headed an international network patterned after an organized-crime syndicate that systematically plundered their nation's treasury of at least $2 billion while in office.

Specifically, the government charges that Imelda Marcos, who was appointed by her husband as the governor of Manila and chairman of a government council that distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. government aid funds, "illegally diverted, transported and invested" some of the aid money to her own personal accounts in the United States and Switzerland.

In helping her husband amass what the government asserts is a $2 billion personal fortune in cash and real estate scattered worldwide, the lawsuit contends "the fraud involved not only elaborate schemes to acquire funds and property by fraud, but equally sophisticated techniques for secretly transporting ill gotten gains to the United States, Switzerland and elsewhere, investing them, and concealing all this fraudulent activity for up to 20 years."

Opened Swiss Accounts

Documents introduced in evidence during the former president's deposition on Tuesday show that he and Imelda Marcos used the aliases William Saunders and Jane Ryan to open their first Swiss bank account in Zurich, Switzerland, with an balance of $950,000 in March 1968, a year when Marcos' salary as president was about $5,600.

When confronted with the document Wednesday, Imelda Marcos pleaded the Fifth Amendment, as did her husband the previous day.

The complaint further charges that she deposited $312,922 that same year in two accounts she maintains in her own name at Lloyds Bank in Los Angeles. An additional wire transfer from Manila a year ago added $675,000 in U.S. government treasury bills to her personal account. Altogether, the Philippine government says it can account for $3 million in cash that the Marcoses deposited in California banks alone--and an additional $900 million in Swiss banks--during their two decades in power.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World