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LEAD: Philippine anti-graft court's verdict on Estrada set for Wed.

MANILA, Sept. 7 Kyodo


A Philippine anti-graft court will give its verdict next week on former President Joseph Estrada, who has been accused of salting away government money while in office, court officials said Friday.

The court ordered the chief of the Philippine National Police to produce Estrada in court at 9 a.m. Wednesday to hear the verdict.

He has been accused of ''unjustly enriching'' himself and his close allies with more than 4 billion pesos ($85 million) in tax money and illegal gambling receipts.

Four others are listed as codefendants in the case, including his son Sen. Jose ''Jinggoy'' Estrada, Edward Serapio, a lawyer who allegedly facilitated the laundering of the ill-gotten wealth, and the president's former gambling buddy, Charlie ''Atong'' Ang, who struck a plea bargain in March by admitting he was bribed and agreeing to return his share of tobacco tax kickbacks and other commissions.

Government prosecutors said they expect a guilty verdict based on the preponderance of evidence they have presented in court. The prosecutors and Estrada's defense counsel have produced testimony from more than 150 witnesses.

''We in the prosecution team have very high confidence that we will get a conviction. Honestly we have not contemplated the scenario of an acquittal,'' government prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said.

Estrada's lead counsel said the defense panel is ''resigned to a verdict of conviction.''

''The alignment of the stars is against us. Estrada's fate was decided on Jan. 20, 2001, when an overwhelming majority of the members of the Supreme Court swore in (President Gloria Macapagal-) Arroyo into office,'' lawyer Rene Saguisag said.

Estrada was ousted in 2001 after two-and-a-half years in office in a nonviolent popular uprising that catapulted his deputy, Arroyo, into the presidency.

''The entire system is against us. The Supreme Court has already declared that President Estrada is an evil person. We don't expect a lower court to tell the (Supreme Court) it is wrong,'' he added.

Police in Manila plan to mobilize 6,000 officers to secure the court and areas where thousands of Estrada supporters are expected to hold protests.

Estrada has also been charged with perjury and graft in the six-year trial that began in October 2001 and ended last June 15.

Estrada is the second former president in postwar Philippine history to be accused of plunder after Jose Laurel, who was accused of collaborating with the Japanese military during World War II. Laurel was amnestied before his trial could be completed.

But Estrada is the first former president to spend time in a jail cell.

If convicted of plunder, the most serious charge against him, Estrada could face life imprisonment, though analysts suggest he may be pardoned considering his age, 70.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Sep 8, 2007
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