Disini’s assets unfrozen

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Swiss Federal Supreme Court has unfrozen $4 million in bank deposits belonging to Marcos crony Herminio Disini due to the Philippine government’s failure to comply with the requirements to recover the funds.

Presidential Commission on Good Government Chairman Camilo Sabio acknowledged this failure in a May 29 letter to Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera, even as government lawyers warned that more disputed accounts in Switzerland would be unfrozen if the Sandiganbayan failed to act.

Also yesterday, the commission welcomed the offer of outgoing Ilocos Norte Gov. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to testify that a significant portion of tycoon Lucio Tan’s business empire belonged to the Marcos family.

“This will boost our case,” said Commissioner for Legal Affairs Narciso Nario, adding the testimony would help the government pin down Tan on ill-gotten-wealth charges.

The unfrozen Disini funds were in a Credit Suisse account under the name of Disini’s wife Paciencia Escolin and their children Herminio Angel and Lea.

Sabio said a December 2006 ruling by the Sandiganbayan on the Disini case fell short of a forefeiture decision that the Swiss Supreme Court required.

The Swiss court also ruled out an extension, saying the 20 years that the funds had been frozen should have been more than enough for the Philippine government to prove its rightful claim to the funds.

The freeze on Disini’s bank account was imposed in 1986 in connection with lawsuits that the government filed against him on allegations that he amassed ill-gotten wealth by using his close relationship with the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Disini was accused of raking in $18 million for brokering a deal that awarded the contract to build a nuclear power plant to Westinghouse Electric Corp.

In a separate case, the Office of the Solicitor General asked the Sandiganbayan to immediately deny a motion filed by Fe Roa Gimenez, former social secretary in Malacañang, her husband Ignacio and Rolando Olanday, to lift a freeze order on about $9 million in Swiss accounts.

Failure on the part of the court to act, Devanadera said, would lead the Swiss Federal Court to unfreeze their funds as well.

The Sandiganbayan had earlier ruled against the Gimenezes and Olanday, but they managed to convince the Swiss Federal Supreme Court that the judgment was not final and “may be subject to reversal.”

Also yesterday, the government asked the Sandiganbayan to enforce its 2004 decision to award it P50 billion in disputed San Miguel Corp. stocks, even though businessman Eduardo Cojuangco could still contest the ruling before the Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the commission said the rules of civil procedure allowed the Sandiganbayan to execute a judgment even before the period of appeal had expired, as long as there were “good reasons” to do so.

In its May 7, 2004 decision, the Sandiganbayan declared that the 27 percent block of shares of San Miguel assigned to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund was “owned by the government in trust for all coconut farmers.”

As a result, the court awarded the government the coconut fund’s 33.133-million San Miguel shares and all dividends paid on them since 1983, and six coconut oil mills and their 14 holding companies.

The same ruling dumped motions for a full-blown trial that could have delayed government plans to sell the San Miguel shares and use the proceeds to revive the ailing coconut industry.

The court barred other parties from questioning the government ownership of the shares and said all appeals should be elevated to the Supreme Court.

In its petition yesterday, the government said the proceeds from the sale of the San Miguel shares could be put in a trust fund to benefit coconut farmers.

It noted that the ownership dispute took 20 years to resolve and in that time, the coconut industry had suffered from the lack of assistance.

“It is now beyond doubt that the said assets belong to the government in trust for the coconut farmers. The long wait should be ended,” the commission said.

On Monday, Marcos’ lawyer, Eloisa Sy, said her client was prepared to back the government’s claim that a number of Tan’s companies were majority owned by the Marcos family.

These are Fortune Tobacco Corp., Asia Brewery Inc., Allied Banking Corp., Foremost Farms, Himmel Industries Inc., Grandspan Development Corp., Silangan Holdings Inc., Dominium Realty and Construction Corp., and Share-holdings Inc.

Tan was an ally of former President Marcos. Forbes Magazine estimates his personal net worth at $1.5 billion, making him the richest man in the country.