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SINGAPORE -- (UPDATE - 6:51 p.m.) Singapore's High Court has ruled that more than $23 million seized from the estate of the late President Ferdinand Marcos rightfully belongs not to the government nor to victims of human rights violations under the dictatorship but to the now privately-owned Philippine National Bank.
In a 77-page ruling obtained Thursday by AFP, Justice Andrew Ang dismissed the rival claims of the government, a group of human rights victims and five foundations believed to be Marcos fronts.
He ruled that the money -- deposited in the Singapore branch of German bank WestLB -- belongs to PNB.
"I am of the view that PNB holds legal title to the funds as trustee of the same," Ang said in his judgment issued Wednesday.
The funds -- $16.8 million and 4.2 million British pounds ($6.58 million) -- were part of the alleged illicit fortune that Marcos stashed away in various Swiss bank accounts.
Marcos was president from 1965 to 1986, including the 14 years he ruled as a dictator after declaring Martial Law in 1972.
He was eventually overthrown by the 1986 EDSA uprising.
He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.
Marcos, his family and cronies are accused of amassing up to $10 billion through graft and rigged business deals, much of it stashed overseas.
In 1998, Swiss authorities released deposits in Swiss banks to PNB, which in turn transferred the money to various banks in Singapore including WestLB, according to the ruling.
WestLB went to court in 2004 to determine the owner of the money after several groups staked their claim to the funds.
In its claim, the government cited a 2003 ruling by the Philippine Supreme Court that the funds be forfeited in its favor.
However, the Singapore judge ruled that the high court ruling could not be enforced in the city-state.
Although saying he sympathized with their plight, Ang dismissed the claims of the human rights victims saying the court "must act in a principled manner when dealing with such questions of law."
Despite numerous cases filed against them, no member of Marcos family has been successfully prosecuted and they continue to live in luxury.
Learning of the Singapore ruling, the human rights organization Karapatan lamented that Ang's decision "disregards the legitimate right of the martial victims for their long overdue indemnification, a part of their struggle for justice." (with InterAksyon.com)