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Arraignment of Estrada cases postponed.

MANILA, May 16 Kyodo


A Philippine anti-graft court postponed Wednesday the arraignment of ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada on charges stemming from allegedly illegal use of an alias from Friday to June 15, citing pending motions before the court that must be resolved.

The Sandiganbayan's Fifth Division made the deferment in view of a motion by the prosecutors to consolidate all the lesser charges against Estrada under the Third Division of the court, which is handling the most serious case of economic plunder against the former president.

Economic plunder is a non-bailable crime that can carry the death penalty.

Earlier Wednesday, the Third Division also postponed the arraignment of Estrada's arraignment for perjury from Thursday to May 31.

Court officials said the new dates are tentative and may still change depending on how the motion to consolidate the charges is resolved.

Government prosecutors charged Estrada, who is now under police detention in a government-run hospital, of illegally using the alias Jose Velarde to sign bank documents to hide allegedly illegally obtained wealth.

Estrada asked for a postponement of the arraignment for perjury, pointing to several motions filed before the Sandiganbayan that still have to be resolved, including a motion to remand the cases to the Ombudsman for preliminary investigation.

Prosecutors also asked for a postponement due to security problems and because they would like the more serious plunder charge acted on first by the court.

Estrada will have to appear in court himself and enter his plea of guilty or not guilty when he is arraigned.

Government prosecutors filed the perjury charge against Estrada for his alleged filing on April 28, 2000 of a false statement of his assets, liability and net worth for 1999.

In that statement, Estrada claimed a total net worth of 35.86 million pesos (around $710,000) and business interests in only three corporations. But prosecutors said evidence shows that at the time, Estrada had at least 1.12 billion pesos in banks and holdings in at least 11 corporations and foundations.

Prosecutors earlier also filed five corruption charges against Estrada but later moved to withdraw those cases to concentrate on the plunder charge. The anti-graft court, however, still has to rule on the final withdrawal of those charges.

Estrada, who was ousted Jan. 20 following a ''people power'' uprising, has been accused of amassing up to 4 billion pesos illegally.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:May 21, 2001
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