A Los Angeles federal judge has frozen $320 million in Swiss and Hong Kong bank accounts that were secretly set up by late Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real imposed the freeze last week after lawyers representing Philippine torture victims in a lawsuit persuaded the judge that the money might be spent by Marcos’ widow and children before the suit concludes.
Real issued a temporary restraining order after holding an unusual emergency hearing by telephone conference call among lawyers in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia. He has scheduled a hearing Friday on a preliminary injunction, which would maintain the freeze until the torture victims’ case is heard.
The judge’s action complicated former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos’ legal problems in this country, just when it appeared they were winding down.
Real acted only two days after Marcos settled a massive civil fraud case in Los Angeles, where the Philippine government was seeking to recover $5 billion that Marcos and her late husband allegedly looted from their native country during his 20-year reign.
That settlement dissolved a world-wide freeze imposed on Marcos assets imposed here by another federal district judge, Mariana R. Pfaelzer, in 1986. The Philippine government recovered about $50 million in the case, including $9 million in cash and jewelry that Marcos agreed to give up to settle it.
Real is presiding over several cases in which Filipinos claim they or their family members were the victims of torture and are entitled to damages under a 200-year-old law called the Alien Tort Statute.
The law enables victims of torture in foreign countries to sue in this country if a U.S. court has jurisdiction over the defendant. Several U.S. judges have ruled that they had jurisdiction over the Marcoses after the couple fled their native land in February, 1986, and settled in Hawaii. However, Marcos attorney James P. Linn maintains that Real has no authority to try the torture cases.
The four cases, originally filed in several U.S. cities, have been consolidated for a February trial in Honolulu, where Real will preside.
One of the cases is a class-action suit on behalf of 10,000 torture victims or their surviving relatives. Philadelphia attorney Robert A. Swift said the lead plaintiff is the mother of Liliosa Hilao, a Filipino student leader who, according to court documents, was illegally arrested, raped by seven soldiers and tortured to death in Manila in 1973. Philippine military officials contend Hilao committed suicide by drinking acid.
The primary defendant in the torture cases is the estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos, who died in September, 1989. Linn, the estate’s lawyer, has contended that whatever horrors befell the plaintiffs, the former Philippine president was not responsible.
Last week, lawyers for the plaintiffs asked Real to impose a new worldwide freeze preventing the representatives of Ferdinand Marcos’ estate from spending or moving the funds until their trial had been held.
Attorney Sherry R. Broder of Honolulu said the order was needed because the Marcoses had used sophisticated techniques--including dummy corporations and pseudonyms--to hide and move assets.
As part of the torture victims’ bid to secure the asset freeze, they made public an April, 1991, deposition in which Marcos said that $320 million in seven Swiss banks and five Hong Kong banks are part of the estate left by her husband.
Also released for the first time was Ferdinand Marcos’ will, which provides that his wife is to receive half of his estate and the remaining half is to be divided among their four children. The five-page will, however, provides no details as to the extent of the former Philippine president’s fortune, at one time reported to be in the billions.
Earlier this year, Real issued a $4.5-million default judgment against Imee Marcos Manotoc, the eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, after she failed to appear for a trial brought by survivors of student leader Archimedes Trajano, who was tortured and murdered in 1977. The judgment against the daughter, who reportedly is living in Morocco, is being appealed while the Trajano action against her father’s estate continues.