The online news portal of TV5
(Updated 6:46 p.m.) The Philippines' anti-graft court has dismissed the government’s forfeiture case against Chinese-Filipino taipan Lucio Tan involving nine companies, nearly a quarter of a century after the case was filed.
The Sandiganbayan's fifth division said the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) failed to prove that Tan and the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, along with Tan's estranged brother Mariano Tanenglian, Carmen Tan, and Don Ferry, collaborated to amass ill-gotten wealth.
“This court is left with no choice but to dismiss the instant caseagainst the defendants,” said the court in a 156-page ruling, nearly 25 years after the case was filed.
The PCGG alleged that Fortune Tobacco Corp., Asia Brewery, AlliedBanking Corp., Foremost Farms, Himmel Industries, GrandspanDevelopment Corp., Silangan Holdings, Dominium Realty and Construction Corp., and Shareholdings Inc. were actually owned by the late dictator, but were only entrusted to Tan.
It also alleged that as such, these companies received undue favors from the government.
Marcos’s widow and children stood as representative to the Marcos estate.
Tan, ranked by Forbes as the second-richest Filipino with an estimated fortune of $3.5 billion, also hoped the ruling would finally end the government's campaign against him, his lawyer Estelito Mendoza said.
Mendoza said that his client has won a decades-long legal battle to keep the fortune he built up during the Marcos dictatorship.
On Wednesday, the Sandiganbayan ruled that the government's 1987seizure of some 22 billion pesos (about $520 million at currentexchange rates), was illegal, Mendoza said in a statement.
The PCGG froze the assets, which included beer, tobacco and banking firms, shortly after Marcos was deposed, alleging in court Tan conspired with the dictator to acquire them illegally.
"It is (Tan's) hope that with this decision of the Sandiganbayan(court), the (government) will relent in its effort to lay claim tohis assets and in restricting the exercise of full rights over those properties," Mendoza said.
After the government sequestered nearly all of his shares of stock in the major corporations he controlled in 1986, the Philippines' anti-graft court nullified the writs of sequestration in 1993 and 2006, Mendoza added.
"There was not even a prima facie foundation to consider them as ill-gotten wealth," Mendoza said in a statement. "The nullification of the sequestration of those shares was affirmed by the Supreme Court in1996 and 2007."
With the Sandiganbayan's decision, Mendoza expressed hope that the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. (PDIC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) "will see their way clear to...give their...approval to the merger of AlliedBank and PNB.
"The delay has not only been prejudicial to the stockholders but to the banking system and the economy of the country," Mendoza said.
Frozen assets include Fortune Tobacco, a dominant player in the local cigarette market, Asia Brewery, the country's number-two beermanufacturer, and Allied Banking, a mid-ranking domestic lender.
Tan retained controlled of these companies during the sequestration but could not sell or merge the firms.
The 77-year-old has always denied that he received favors from Marcos, who was toppled in a bloodless "people power" revolt in 1986and died in US exile three years later.
One of the first acts of the government that succeeded Marcos--the administration of President Benigno Aquino III's mother, Corazon--was to form the wealth commission to recover up to $10 billion in stateassets allegedly stolen by the dictator and his associates.
However successive governments have largely failed in their efforts, with local courts frequently ruling in favor of the cronies, many of whom have remained extremely powerful political and business figures.
Last year another Marcos ally, Eduardo Cojuangco, an uncle of the current president, also beat government efforts to take back his shares in San Miguel Corporation, one of the country's largest conglomerates.
Tan had also got the anti-graft court to lift the sequestration twice previously, Mendoza said.
PCGG spokesman Nick Suarez told AFP the government could again appeal the latest ruling, although no decision had yet been made.
"The commission is still studying all available options as to whatcourse of action it would take," Suarez said.
The freeze orders against Tan did not include Philippine Airlines and Philippine National Bank, which he acquired from the government after the fall of Marcos. With InterAksyon.com