The greatest robbery of a government was in the Philippines, according to the Guinness World Records:
Who: FERDINAND MARCOS
What: 5,000,000,000 – 10,000,000,000 US DOLLAR(S)
The government of the Philippines announced on 23 Apr 1986 that it had succeeded in identifying $860.8 million (£569.5 million) salted away by the former President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (1917–89) and his wife Imelda. The total national loss from November 1965 was believed to be $5–$10 billion.
Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos fled to Hawaii, USA, in 1986, where the former president died. Imelda Marcos returned to the Philippines in 1991, and was found guilty of corruption in 1993. However, Imelda Marcos was cleared of all charges on appeal in October 1998. The Philippine Supreme Court acquitted her, setting aside a 12-year jail sentence. The decision – by a majority of 8-5, with 1 abstention – reversed a January ruling by the Supreme Court on her 1993 conviction by a lower court.
MARCOS’S PLUNDER AND WEALTH
Marcos reportedly took a $5 billion to $10 billion fortune while in office. The figure has often been cited by the Philippine government and was obtained by the C.I.A. using unknown methods. In any case, this is in sharp contrast to the reported income of the Marcoses from 1966 to 1986 of around $300,000 a year. In 1999, Imelda said that her “legendary” husband got rich from gold trading and luck and said he planned to use the bulk of money for development projects to help his country.
In 1999, Imelda also declared that her family owns “virtually all of the Philippines.” When the Marcoses were in power the national treasury was like the Marcos’s piggy bank. Any money the Philippines earned—whether through taxes, tariffs, land sales—could end up in the Marcoses pockets. Moreover, the Marcoses gave many special deals to their cronies and awarded them lucrative concessions to timber, minerals and cash crops. It is hard to imagine that the Marcoses didn’t receive some kind of kickback or share of the profits in the scheme.
According to widely circulated story a three-foot-high Golden Buddha stashed with diamonds and other gems, hundreds of gold bars and other valuables accumulated by Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita during World War II as booty was hidden shortly before the end of war. A poor locksmith reportedly found the Buddha and gold in a tunnel near a hospital in 1971 only to have it seized by Marcos and stored away in a Swiss Vault. Later a Swiss court in Zurich ordered Imelda Marcos, as heir to her husband’s fortune, Zurich to pay the family of the locksmith $460 million.
Marcos’s Possessions and Assets
Catherine A. Traywick wrote in Foreign Policy, “During their two-decade conjugal dictatorship, as it came to be known, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos pillaged up to $10 billion from Philippine coffers to finance their extravagant lifestyle. Nearly 20 years after their downfall, and in spite of an extensive recovery effort, most of that wealth is still missing. (Source: Catherine A. Traywick, Foreign Policy, January 16, 2014)
“The PCGG has a list of more than 100 missing paintings believed to have been purchased by the Marcoses with dirty money. This past year, one of those paintings — Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas” — turned up at an auction in New York where it sold for $43 million. Authorities traced the painting back to a former secretary of Imelda’s who was also in possession of — and trying to sell — three other impressionist masterpieces that had formerly belonged to the first lady.
“The PCGG has seized $350 million worth of real estate in New York, including a Wall Street skyscraper (which sold for almost nothing), the Crown Building, a nine-story Manhattan shopping mall, a Fifth Avenue tower, and a 13-acre estate on Long Island. The Marcoses also had several properties in Beverly Hills and two homes in Princeton Pike and Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Their Philippine vacation home recently sold for $2 million, as well.
“In 2003, a Philippine court ordered the forfeiture of $683 million held in Swiss bank accounts in Ferdinand Marcos’s name. Switzerland turned over the money in 2004.
“When the family finally fled the palace during the 1986 popular uprising, they carried as much of their wealth as they could on their persons: 89 family members and servants carried $10,000 in cash each. Their jet held 50 pounds of gold bullion and $5 million-$10 million worth of jewelry. A second plane carried 22 boxes filled with $1.2 million of newly minted currency. Incredible, right? That’s not even the worse of it: Today, Imelda Marcos serves as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives and lives in relative peace and prosperity in the Philippines. She’s never served a day in jail for defrauding her country.
How Marcos’s Accumulated Their Wealth and Hid It
Catherine A.Traywick wrote in Foreign Policy, “According to a World Bank report, the Marcoses managed to accumulate their wealth through a number of channels: by using their political power to take over large private companies, creating state-owned monopolies, skimming off international aid, and directly raiding the public treasury. They then laundered their ill-gotten gains through shell corporations, eventually investing it in real estate and depositing it into offshore accounts. (Source: Catherine A. Traywick, Foreign Policy, January 16, 2014)
In the early 2000s, Imelda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “There is more Marcos wealth that government is not aware of. But for the time being I can only admit that there is only $800 million kept in various international banks.” Imelda has said that her husband left her with instructions on what to do with the money but has not given any details. Most of the Marcos fortune is believed to be in the name of former cronies and associates, some whom are leading tycoons, and uncovering the paper trail to uncover the money is next to possible.
Marcos was a skilled lawyer who hid his wealth under dummy corporations, front men, nominees and pseudonyms. Ferdinand often used the name “William Saunders” and Imelda used “Jane Ryan” in accounts. A Philippine senator told the International Herald Tribune, “Marcos had a brilliant mind. He hid his wealth through layers and layers of corporations and trusts.” In 1999, Imelda told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Marcos entrusted $12.8 billion worth of blue chip stocks to his cronies.
Efforts to Recover Marcos’s Plunder
The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the government body in charge of recovering Marcos’s wealth, was created by Marcos’ successor, then-President Corazon Aquino, to try to retrieve what it considered ill-gotten assets by the Marcoses and some of their political and business associates. As of 2012, a PCGG official told Associated Press, the government had recovered $2.24 billion worth of cash, bank accounts and prime real estate from the Marcoses and their cronies.
Over the years it has concentrated on tracking down big ticket items. Kate McGeown of the BBC wrote:- “It has sold real estate in New York and millions of dollars-worth of shares, and obtained $600 million in Swiss bank accounts. It has also found a ruby and diamond tiara, locked in the vault of the Swiss central bank, which could fetch more than $8 million. But Bautista admits there is still a lot missing – especially the paintings.” (Source: Kate McGeown, BBC News, January 25, 2013)
It is rare for countries to recovered money from deposed leaders in Swiss bank accounts. Iran never touched the Shah’s accounts, Romania never touched Ceausescu’s money and Ethiopia never got a hold of Haile Selassies’ money. Mali, Haiti, Somalia, Paraguay, Panama, Nicaragua and the Central African republic all tried. Only the Philippines had some success.
A 2003 Supreme Court decision found all but $320,000 of the Marcos assets to be the result of ill-gotten wealth. However, a $22 billion judgment that declared Marcos stole money from the Philippines was overturned. In 1998, Estrada said that the evidence that the Marcos’s plundered the country was weak and he was interested in striking a deal with Imelda to help her get some of the money as well as Filipinos.
Eric Pace wrote in the New York Times in 1989 at the of Marcos’s death, “A Manila commission, trying to regain what it called the concealed Marcos fortune, took over 268 companies, in many industries ranging from banking to mining to steel-making, by early 1987. Not long after Mrs. Aquino took power, Philippine officials estimated that the fortune built up by Mr. and Mrs. Marcos totaled $5 billion or more, and the Aquino Government estimated that as much as $10 billion in stolen wealth was involved. Mrs. Marcos was found to have left behind 1,060 pairs of shoes and slippers at the Presidential Palace, along with 508 floor-length gowns.” (Source: Eric Pace, New York Times, September 29, 1989)
“As time went by, the Aquino Government filed several civil suits before a Philippine court asking damages of as much as $100 billion against Mr. Marcos, his relatives and ”cronies.” In 1986, the Government filed suit in the Honolulu Federal District Court to recover $100 million in assets that the Government charged the Marcoses had stolen. New legal dcouments were filed on June 20 in Los Angeles charging that the Marcoses stole $5 billion during the presidential years. The suit has not come to trial and is still pending.
“Investigations were also carried out by American officials, and in October 1988, Mr. Marcos, his wife and eight associates, including Adnan M. Khashoggi, a Saudi businessman, were indicted by a Federal grand jury in New York in a racketeering case. It included charges that Mr. Marcos and the others had embezzled tens of millions of dollars during his presidency. In April 1989, federal prosecutors said Mr. Marcos had become too ill to stand trial on the criminal charges pending in New York. But on June 9 they moved to guarantee claims against his fortune in the event of his death, filing a civil suit against him and his wife in Federal District Court in Manhattan.”
In 2002, a man claiming to be the son of Ferdinand Marcos was given a four year prison sentence for using false documents to try to withdraw $90 billion from a nonexistant bank account.
Recovering Money from Marcos’s Swiss Bank Accounts and Real Estate Holdings
In 1992, a U.S. federal court jury in Hawaii awarded $2 billion in damages to 10,000 human rights victim of the Marcos regime in a class action suit filled against Marcos. The money was thought to be mostly in Swiss bank accounts. A U.S. judge ruled in May, 1995 that the group could collect $450 million from Marcos’s Swiss bank accounts.
In 1997, the Swiss Supreme Court ruled that Marcos deposits amounting to $570 million were “criminally acquired and thus should be returned to the Philippine government.” The Swiss banks that had the accounts tried to block the collection. In September, 2000, a Swiss anti-graft court ruled the money could be seized because it exceeded the amount of Marcos’s income then it reversed itself in 2002 and said the money could not be seized because they were in the name of foundations and the government could not completely prove they belonged to the Marcoses. The anti-graft court blamed the Philippines government for not submitting authenticated copies of a Swiss court ruling that said the funds were ill-gotten wealth.
In July 2003, the Swiss Supreme Court awarded the Philippines government the money in Marcos’s frozen accounts. The court said that the Marcoses had failed to prove that their assets were legally acquired and, “hence, the Swiss deposits should be considered ill-gotten wealth and forfeited in favor the State.” The money in the accounts was valued at $658.2 million. According to Philippine law most of the money was supposed to be spent on land reform.
Initially believed to be worth $15 billion, Marcos’s Swiss accounts were later valued at several hundreds of million dollars. But these only included accounts of Imelda and Ferdinand, not members of their entourage or cronies. Over the years, millions of dollars was spent on legal fees.
The Philippines government has accused Marcos and his relatives of plundering up to $10 billion and had recovered about $4 billion as of 2013. As of 1999, a commission set up to recover the “ill-gotten” wealth of the Marcoses had recovered about $2 billion in stocks, Swiss bank accounts, jewelry and real estate. Property— including mansions and jewelry—owned by the Marcoses was seized and much of it was auctioned off to pay off government debts. Buildings the Marcoses owned in New York were seized and sold. A jewelry collection owned by Imelda fetched $4 million in a New York action. A Spanish-style mansion failed to sell.
Efforts to Recover the Marcos’s Missing Paintings
Kate McGeown of the BBC wrote: “The commission started with a list of more than 300 missing paintings – many by the grand masters – and about half of these are still unaccounted for. “We really don’t know where they are. They could be anywhere,” Mr Bautista said.I asked him if he thought that some of these artworks were still in the hands of Imelda Marcos herself. His reply was careful: “Your guess is as good as mine”. (Source: Kate McGeown, BBC News, January 25, 2013)
“Robert Sison, Mrs Marcos’ lawyer, fears that is exactly what the commission thinks. And while Mr Sison says he is unaware exactly what art the family still has, he believes that is not the right way to look at the issue. He refers to the Marcos wealth as being “confiscated” rather than recovered by the commission, insisting there is no legal basis to take any of the assets. “The Philippine government has no right to question why Mrs Marcos had this art,” Mr Sison said. “Ferdinand Marcos was a gold trader before he became president, and he made his money then.” Mr Sison also pointed out that, despite numerous cases being filed against the family, no-one has been successfully prosecuted.
“Maybe the full Marcos collection will never be found. Maybe the missing paintings will remain in private homes, stores and bank vaults around the world. As for Mrs Marcos, she is now in her 80s but still as strong and flamboyant as ever – and still a keen art collector. During one of my interviews with her, I asked for a photograph as a keepsake. We posed next to a painting. “Wow, is that a Picasso?” I asked. “Yes,” she said proudly.
Philippines Government Body Tasked with Recovering Marcos’s Plunder
The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) is charged with recovering the Marcoses’ stolen loot and providing restitution to thousands of victims of their brutal reign. Traywick wrote in Foreign Policy, “It has confiscated jewelry collections worth about $8.4 million, and hopes to exhibit them as part of a very belated shaming exercise. Millions of dollars worth of jewels is a substantial windfall but it pales in comparison to some of the other assets recovered by the PCGG (and, obviously, it’s a just a drop in the bucket compared to what’s still out there).” (Source: Catherine A. Traywick, Foreign Policy, January 16, 2014)
Andres Bautista is the head of PCGG. He told the BBC: “This is a job we took an oath to do, and we want to do it well.” Kate McGeown of the BBC wrote: “But Mr Bautista faces an uphill battle – and not just because the [loot] is proving difficult to find. The commission itself is not well respected – previous members have been accused of corruption, or “taking eggs from the chicken coop”, as Mr Bautista euphemistically puts it. He admits that the commission “needs to have the support of the public”, and he is not sure whether it still does. The Philippine judicial system is also frustratingly slow. Many of the legal cases filed against the Marcoses and their allies have been stuck for years in the backlog, never reaching court. [Source: Kate McGeown, BBC News, January 25, 2013.
“But there is another major factor hampering the commission – the Marcoses are once again a political force. Imelda is a congresswoman; her daughter Imee is a provincial governor; her son BongBong is a respected senator who has a realistic chance of becoming president in 2016. The fact the Marcoses are back in power “really doesn’t help us,” Mr Bautista conceded.
“Given all this, it is perhaps not surprising that he wants to wind the commission down. He is not quite ready to admit defeat – he suggests the Department of Justice still continues to investigate – but when I asked him if he thought the whole Marcos collection would ever be recovered, he paused for a while, then laughed softly. “Filipinos are too forgetful – and we forgive too easily,” he said eventually.
“The emphasis now has shifted to another former president, and her alleged ill-gotten wealth. Gloria Arroyo left office in 2010, and has already been accused of corruption as well as a string of other offences. Her trial looks set to be expensive and time-consuming.
2013 Law Compensates Marcos Victims
In February 2013, a landmark law was signed that distributed $244 million to thousands of rights of the Marcos regime. Al Jazeera reported: “Philippine president Benigno Aquino signed a landmark law compensating victims of military dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The money, about $244 million in total, will be distributed to potentially thousands of people whom Marcos’s security forces tortured, raped or detained, as well as relatives of those who were killed. Aquino said the law was part of his government’s efforts to “right the wrongs of the past.” “We may not bring back the time stolen from martial law victims, but we can assure them of the state’s recognition of their sufferings that will help bring them closer to the healing of their wounds,” Aquino said. (Source: Al Jazeera, February 25, 2013)
Loretta Ann Rosales, an anti-Marcos activist who was tortured by his security forces and now heads the country’s independent rights commission, said the law would finally allow all his victims to feel a sense of justice. “The law is essential in rectifying the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship and obliges the state to give compensation to all those who suffered gross violations of their rights,” Rosales told AFP. Marie Hilao-Enriquez, the chairwoman of Selda, a group which represents Marcos rights victims, also welcomed the symbolic intent behind the law but said the money was too little to have a significant impact. “There are so many victims that when you divide it to everyone it will not result to much,” Hilao-Enriquez said. Hilao-Enriquez’s group represents about 10,000 documented victims, but she said there were many more who had not been officially registered and may now come forward, such as Muslim communities in the remote south of the country.
Under the law, a compensation board will accept and evaluate applications for reparations. Those victims will be from when Marcos declared martial law in 1972 to the end of his rule in 1986. The compensation will come from about $600 million the government has recovered from Swiss bank accounts that Marcos secretly maintained while he was in power.
Marcos’s son and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Junior, is a senator with public ambitions eventually to become president. He posted a long statement on his official Facebook page in which he said he had “no problem” with compensating people for rights abuses committed between 1972 and 1986. But Marcos said the issue of compensating the “tens of thousands” of human rights victims in the post-Marcos era had been ignored. “That question is like an elephant in the room that some politicians, the typically glib, sanctimonious, and self-righteous, pretend not to see,” he wrote, while insisting he was focusing on ways to “unify our country.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.