10,000 Troops, Billions in Gold : House Panel Hears Tapes of Marcos Plotting Coup
If Ferdinand E. Marcos had his way, the invasion would have begun early today, with nearly 10,000 friendly troops massing somewhere on the northern coast of the Philippines to receive $18 million in weapons from a flotilla of gunboats.
Within three months, President Corazon Aquino would be taken hostage, Marcos would be restored to power and nearly $14 billion in gold reserves that he had hidden would again be his.
The scheme seemed well-constructed, but it was frustrated by two jet-setting American businessmen from Virginia Beach, Va., who blundered onto Marcos’ plans, tried unsuccessfully to warn the Justice Department of the invasion and then secretly taped conversations with Marcos about the planned coup.
The two men, who had posed as arms dealers while they dealt with Marcos, told their bizarre story Thursday to members of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee and played tape recordings in which the former Philippine president, frequently whispering in conspiratorial tones, described his elaborate plans.
“This man was 100% business; he knew it was a go-for-broke deal,” said attorney Richard Hirschfeld, who along with his partner, business consultant Robert Chastain, held several meetings with Marcos over the past year. He recalled that Marcos--confined by the U.S. government since Monday to the Hawaiian island of Oahu where he lives--was fanatical about secrecy, often turning up television broadcasts of “Leave it to Beaver” so that he could frustrate any eavesdropping equipment while discussing his plans.
Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.), who chaired the hearing of the subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, complimented both men for their “public service” in bringing the tapes forward.
But Hirschfeld, while refusing to provide exact details, acknowledged that he and his partner will be paid handsomely by the Aquino government for their troubles, which included numerous trips between Marcos’ home in Honolulu, the U.S. mainland and undisclosed locations in Saudi Arabia.
‘Greatly Alarmed’ by Plans
“I’m not going to try and look like a selfless patriot because I’m not a Filipino citizen,” said Hirschfeld, who explained that he was “greatly alarmed” by Marcos’ plans. After reviewing the tapes and other documents, he added, “We admittedly perceived a rather unique business opportunity.”
It has also been a costly experience for Marcos. The Reagan Administration, armed with evidence of the former dictator’s plans, placed him under “island arrest,” prohibiting him from leaving Oahu without permission of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Marcos has been warned that “the law is closing in on him,” State Department legal adviser Abraham D. Sofaer told the committee.
The story began last September, when Hirschfeld was invited by Marcos to a party at his hillside home. During the evening, the attorney mentioned that one of his clients is Saudi Sheik Mohammed Fassi and recalled that Marcos, sounding interested, mentioned that he had done business in the past with several Saudis.
Several weeks later, Hirschfeld said, Marcos asked him for help in obtaining a passport from another country, to facilitate travel free from the restrictions imposed by the United States and the Philippine governments since he fled Manila in February, 1986. Although his efforts were unsuccessful, Marcos later asked him to arrange a $10-million loan from Fassi, the attorney said.
Then came the bombshell.
Needed Money for Soldiers
During a Jan. 12 meeting, Hirschfeld said, “President Marcos stated that he needed $5 million more in order to pay 10,000 soldiers $500 each as a form of ‘combat life insurance.’ Taken aback by this statement, I asked President Marcos if he was talking about an invasion of the Philippines. He flatly answered, ‘Yes.’ ”
Marcos also said he was negotiating with several arms dealers to purchase up to $18 million in weapons including tanks, heat-seeking missiles, M-16 rifles with grenade launchers and enough ammunition to last an army three months, the Virginia attorney recalled.
Hirschfeld, fearing that he might have been compromised by knowledge of Marcos’ plan, tried to bring it to the attention of Justice Department officials. But they offered neither help nor constructive suggestions, he said, and instead asked for “further proof” of the former leader’s plans.
Several weeks later, Hirschfeld and Chastain flew to Hawaii ostensibly to help Marcos buy his arsenal of weapons. But they did so with microphones hidden in Chastain’s burgundy leather briefcase and in the vest pocket of Hirschfeld’s suit.
Marcos Described Details
Over the course of several meetings, they got Marcos to describe key details of his plans, including the proposed invasion date, the number of troops involved, a scheme to take Aquino hostage, plus lengthy discussions of the 1,000 tons of gold--worth $14 billion--that Marcos said he had hidden somewhere in the Philippines. Marcos envisioned landing in his home province of Ilocos Norte, where he would be greeted by supporters and swept back to control of the Philippines.
“I am going to land there, I don’t care who opposes me,” Marcos said in one of the taped conversations. “And if they oppose the landing, that is when we start the battle.” As for Aquino, “What I would like to see happen is that we take her hostage. Not to hurt her. If necessary, forcibly take her,” he said.
Marcos claimed to have as an ally the commander of Clark Air Base, a U.S. installation in the Philippines.
Hirschfeld and Chastain subsequently provided the tapes to the Aquino government, as well as the House committee. Solarz said Justice Department officials are examining all of the materials and that some of the tape-recorded materials “cast great light” on a current federal grand jury investigation of allegations that Marcos and his cronies pocketed vast amounts of U.S. military aid.
Hirschfeld has been in the public eye before. In 1984, he was enjoined by the Securities and Exchange Commission from selling the stock of Champion Sports Management, Inc., a company of which former boxer Muhammad Ali was chairman. Hirschfeld subsequently failed to disclose the existence of the injunction in financial reports filed by a second company he controls, and last September pleaded guilty to one count of criminal contempt for his action. According to an SEC official, he was sentenced to three years’ probation and 300 hours of community service.