Claimants fight for Marcos millions

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The Independent Online

Hong Kong

Almost ten years after President Ferdinand Marcos made his ignominious exit from the Philippines accompanied by millions of dollars, claimants to his fortune met in Hong Kong yesterday to see if they could reach agreement on who was entitled to $475m (pounds 306m) deposited in Swiss banks.

This mediation is but one in a long series of efforts to unfreeze the considerable assets of the late president and deliver the proceeds to legitimate claimants. It was initiated by the Swiss Bank Corp and Credit Suisse, the banks holding the money under a freeze order from the Swiss government.

The banks had planned to conduct the mediation in a blaze of publicity but by the end of yesterday afternoon an embarrassed Chester Crocker, a former US Assistant Secretary of State, who is chairing the meeting, emerged to say that a blackout on news had been agreed by all parties. He added, however: "Things are off to a not bad start."

There are basically three groups of claimants to the money in Swiss banks and other funds believed to be in the US, Hong Kong, London and other countries. The Marcos family insists that the money was not gained as a result of corruption and should be paid to them under the terms of the late president's will.

The Philippines government is claiming $1.7bn in unpaid taxes and groups representing 10,000 alleged human rights victims have a claim based on a Hawaii court ruling which in 1994 awarded them $1.9bn. Other, less substantiated claims have come from individuals and companies alleging that Marcos, who died in 1989, owed them substantial sums.

Imelda Marcos, his widow, said the mediation effort was a mockery of justice but nevertheless, under a US court order, her family's interests were represented by her American lawyer.

More vocal were protests in Hong Kong by human rights demonstrators. They took special exception to Robert Swift, who is acting on behalf of the Swiss banks, claiming that this was his "final act of treachery" after withholding the money from Marcos detainees.

Romeo Capulong, representing the Selda coalition of human rights claimants, warned President Ramos of the Philippines against entering into an "immoral deal" that would "absolve'' Marcos and his family of human rights violations.