Alleged Estrada Secret Bank Account Opened

Published December 20th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Records of a secret bank account allegedly used by President Joseph Estrada to hide his criminal activities were allowed to be examined at his historic corruption trial in the Senate on Wednesday. 

Supreme Court chief justice Hilario Davide, the presiding officer of a Senate tribunal conducting the trial, ordered the sealed envelope containing the documents, which were kept for safe-keeping in a Senate vault, to be opened at the hearing. 

The order to open the large envelope came after Estrada's lawyers withdrew their opposition to the inspection of the records after a eight-day debate with prosecutors. 

Among the documents was a laminated card containing the signatures of a certain Jose Velarde when the current account was opened last year with Equitable PCI Bank. 

"This is a very serious matter, please keep quiet so that everything can be recorded," Judge Davide remarked as he calmed the excitement among those present at the packed hearing. 

Prosecutors allege the secret account was used to buy a mansion for one of Estrada's mistresses. 

His lawyers had claimed it was immaterial to the corruption and other charges faced by the president at the trial, on its 10th day Wednesday. 

Velarde was said to have issued a cheque for 142 million pesos (2.8 million dollars) as capital for an alleged bogus company controlled by Estrada's former urban housing adviser which then bought a mansion for one of his mistresses. 

Prosecutors have alleged that Velarde and Estrada were one and the same, stressing that the signature on the cheque was identical to that of the leader's. 

If introduced as evidence, prosecutors said the bank records would prove Estrada hid unexplained wealth and was guilty of corruption. 

Equitable PCI Bank had initially resisted turning over the secret account records, invoking the country's strict bank secrecy law and sparking allegations that it was covering up for Estrada. 

Estrada is accused of taking bribes from illegal gambling syndicates, skimming government excise taxes and appointing cronies to multiple government positions. 

He has been impeached by the House of Representatives and if convicted by the Senate will be removed from office -- MANILA (AFP) 



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