A 48-hour deadline for former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos to complete any plea bargaining on an anticipated fraud and conspiracy indictment ran out Thursday, making federal grand jury charges against him imminent, government sources said.
Officials refused to speculate about what steps federal authorities will take if Marcos is indicted, but it was learned that FBI agents in Honolulu have been alerted to stand by for immediate action. One source familiar with the case said that Marcos, as a former head of state, will be given the opportunity through his attorneys to surrender.
Attorneys for the deposed Philippine leader failed to meet the two-day deadline, which federal prosecutors had imposed in an effort to allow Marcos a last chance to plead guilty before he is formally charged, sources close to the case told The Times.
Asked about the deadline, John J. Tigue Jr., one of Marcos’ lawyers in New York, said only: “If there was an ultimatum, it would have been discussed with the client.” However, it was learned that Richard A. Hibey, Marcos’ principal lawyer on criminal matters, flew to Honolulu after meeting with Justice Department officials Tuesday, when the deadline was set.
An official involved in the process called it unlikely that Marcos would have accepted any U.S. proposal that he plead guilty to federal racketeering charges, which would have allowed the United States to launch an attempt to force him to forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars in assets that would be returned to the Philippines.
“But he (had) to be given the chance,” the official added.
Other government sources said they believe that Marcos rejected the opportunity to plea bargain, even though he might have been able to negotiate his way out of a prison term, because he believes that he can avoid such a legal penalty as a former head of state.
Meanwhile, President Reagan, responding to a report in The Times that he has agreed not to intervene in the case, said Thursday that he may not get involved in the matter because “it is something that may not come to my desk at all.”
“I would think that it would have to be a matter of foreign policy to bring it to my desk, not just some legal technicality,” Reagan said, responding to reporters’ questions at a ceremony in the White House’s Rose Garden.
Other Administration sources said Reagan will avoid involvement in the case on grounds that it does not raise national security questions. White House and State Department officials had voiced concerns about a possible diplomatic backlash to a criminal indictment of the one-time leader of an allied nation who had been given sanctuary in this country by personal invitation of the President.
Government sources said these concerns were partly satisfied when the current Philippine government agreed to a State Department request to grant a formal waiver of “head of state immunity” enjoyed by Marcos.
Concerns also were eased by a Justice Department agreement to emphasize in the charges and any public discussion of them the actions allegedly taken by Marcos since coming to the United States after fleeing the Philippines during a bloodless coup in February, 1986.
However, to support charges under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the indictment is expected to cover steps Marcos allegedly took to divert Philippine funds to his own use, according to government sources.
A federal grand jury in New York, which is scheduled to meet today, has been investigating allegations that Marcos diverted for his own use large sums of Philippine government funds and U.S. aid money to the Asian nation.
Prosecutors, led by U.S. Atty. Rudolph W. Giuliani, had been considering keeping any indictment of Marcos sealed to permit plea bargaining to continue. But Marcos’ failure to meet the deadline apparently changed their minds, raising the likelihood that any grand jury action will be made public immediately.
No Chance to Flee
Officials emphasized that in affording Marcos the chance to surrender without being arrested by FBI agents, precautions would be maintained to block any attempt he might make to flee Honolulu.
It was also learned Thursday that Marcos has been subpoenaed to testify by the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs. The subcommittee issued the subpoena in an executive session Oct. 12, congressional sources said.
It was not clear whether the attempt to compel Marcos’ testimony would be sidetracked by any grand jury action.