Imelda Marcos charged over 'secret accounts'

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Imelda Marcos, the flamboyant former first lady of the Philippines, declared herself the victim of a witch-hunt yesterday after a court ordered her to be arrested on charges of laundering some £155m of illegally gained wealth through Swiss bank accounts.

Mrs Marcos, 72, widow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, made a brief appearance before the anti-corruption court after arriving in a black chauffeur-driven limousine, accompanied by bodyguards.

"Once again, this is pure and simple harassment," she said, raising ink-smudged fingers for the benefit of photographers after being fingerprinted. "It is so inhuman. It's a persecution of 16 years. So relentless, so cruel."

The four charges, each of which carries a penalty of 10 to 17 years in prison, form part of a long-running case alleging that she and her husband plundered the nation's economy during his 18 years in power. Victims of human rights abuses under the Marcos regime have also made claims against the Marcos family's assets.

Mrs Marcos, whose name became a byword for extravagance and ostentation, surrendered herself to the court in a royal blue trouser suit and large sapphire ear-rings bordered with diamond and ruby studs.

She was given bail after being charged with keeping money illegally amassed by her and her husband in "secret accounts" in the name of various foundations in Switzerland. She has denied that the wealth was illicitly accumulated, claiming that Mr Marcos was an affluent man before he became president in 1968.

Famously, more than 1,200 pairs of shoes belonging to Mrs Marcos were found when the couple fled the presidential palace in Manila after being toppled by a "people power" revolution in 1986. They took refuge in Hawaii, where Mr Marcos died three years later.

Mrs Marcos, a former beauty queen from humble roots, has refused to bury her husband's chemically preserved corpse, keeping it in a glass casket in the hope that a future government will allow him to be interred in Manila.

More than 100 criminal and civil lawsuits have been filed against the Marcoses and their associates since the mid-1980s. She was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to 12 years in jail in 1993, but the conviction was overturned five years later by the Supreme Court.

At the height of her husband's power, she was notorious for her shopping trips to the world's most expensive boutiques, her glitzy parties and her lavish beautification projects in a country of extreme poverty.