Imelda Marcos and her late husband, deposed Philippine dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, were victims of political persecution and American authorities pressed criminal charges against them to curry favor with the new Manila government, defense attorney Gerry Spence asserted in federal court Tuesday.
He argued that President Corazon Aquino, who replaced Marcos, had made U.S. prosecution of the ousted leaders a condition to keep U.S. military bases in the Philippines.
“No prosecution, no bases,” Spence said.
The arguments came as the Wyoming attorney wrapped up his defense of Mrs. Marcos on fraud and racketeering charges. He called no witnesses, relying for a defense on his 4-hour appeal to jurors.
He argued that a succession of U.S. presidents had regarded the Marcoses as “decent, honest people” but that politics had changed that.
“I’ll tell you when (Marcos) became a crook--it’s magic in this case. He became a crook . . . when Mrs. Aquino came to power. Magically, he became a crook at that point,” Spence said.
Noting that the American prosecutors have been aided by lawyers, accountants and investigators from Manila’s Presidential Commission on Good Government, an agency created by Aquino to recover the estimated billions of dollars allegedly looted by the Marcoses, Spence accused the U.S. and Philippine governments of ganging up on the widow.
“She must have watched in horror as these . . . indomitable forces (were) hurled against her,” the lawyer said.
The flamboyant defense attorney--whose conduct of the 3-month case had been sharply criticized, mostly in private, by Marcos relatives and other members of the defense team--delivered an impassioned summation, defending both Mrs. Marcos and her dead husband.
He dismissed evidence that Marcos had engaged in substantial bribe, kickback and coercion schemes through much of his regime. Comparing Marcos to American tycoons of the last century, Spence said Marcos was “getting in on the ground floor” of a new country when he acquired secret ownership of vast amounts of Philippine businesses and industry.
And Spence ridiculed the government’s case against Mrs. Marcos, calling it the fantasy of “an overzealous prosecutor” who “closes his eyes and sees things.”
He said lead prosecutor Charles LaBella relied on inference and suspicion to accuse the former first lady. Gritting his teeth at one point Spence growled:
“Where is there a single word in this case that says Mrs. Marcos knew” about the frauds and thefts alleged by the government.
In attacking the government’s case, Spence acknowledged that Mrs. Marcos spent a lot of money. He called her “a world-class shopper.” But he said, “There is no crime in being wealthy or in spending money.”
Mrs. Marcos, who will be 61 next week, is accused of helping her late husband embezzle more than $200 million from their nation’s treasury to buy jewelry, art and four New York skyscrapers.
Her co-defendant, Saudi financier Adnan Khashoggi, is charged with mail fraud and obstructing justice for allegedly helping the Marcoses hide ownership of the properties after a U.S. court order froze their assets.
Khashoggi’s attorney, James Linn, is to present his closing arguments today. The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Thursday.