Actor George Hamilton, linked by federal prosecutors to some of the alleged financial schemes of Imelda Marcos, testified Tuesday that the former Philippine first lady was "a great friend" who prevented his mother from committing suicide after his brother's death.
In a voice choked with emotion, Hamilton described his brother's long and futile battle with kidney and liver disease and said that Mrs. Marcos invited his despondent mother, Ann Hamilton, to visit the Philippines after his death. He said that thanks to Mrs. Marcos "my mother is alive today."
The actor said he had met Mrs. Marcos in the late 1970s when he visited the Philippines during a world tour to promote his movie "Love at First Bite," a comedy in which he played a vampire. He said their social relationship became one of great friendship during the family crisis.
Hamilton, an unindicted co-conspirator testifying under a grant of immunity, acknowledged under prosecution questioning that he had received a $5.5-million loan from a Philippine businesswoman and close associate of Mrs. Marcos. Prosecutors contend that the loan was repaid with money later given to the actor by Mrs. Marcos.
In arguments outside the presence of jurors, Assistant U.S. Atty. Charles LaBella said the government intends to prove that the so-called loan to Hamilton was actually money from one of the secret Marcos bank accounts in Manila.
That issue is of particular importance to prosecutors because of defense assertions that millions of dollars allegedly diverted from the Philippine treasury by Mrs. Marcos and her late husband, former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, were used to fight communist rebels and to further other official policies of the government.
LaBella said the dollars given to Hamilton went for "personal use . . . for nonpolitical reasons, for nongovernmental purposes."
Prosecutors contend that Mrs. Marcos, on trial here for fraud and racketeering, looted her nation's wealth and spent it to satisfy a voracious appetite for art, jewelry and Manhattan real estate.
Hamilton testified that he borrowed the money from Gliceria Tantoco, a woman identified by several previous witnesses as an agent for Mrs. Marcos, as part of a film development venture. No film was ever made.
The Philippine businesswoman, who owns Manila's largest department store, was indicted on the same charges pending against Mrs. Marcos. But Tantoco jumped bail in Rome while awaiting extradition to the United States in 1988 and has been a fugitive since.
Staff writer William C. Rempel reported from Los Angeles. Kristina M. Luz, a Philippine journalist, reported from New York.