Southeast Asian Politics: Court Records, Imelda Marcos
Unofficial power is difficult to document, yet the martial law years in the Philippines were often described in the media as the “conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos” (1972-1986). This epithet articulates succinctly the perception of the First Lady’s power behind the scenes. Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Livingston, of the government prosecution panel, gave this opening statement at the start of Imelda Marcos’s 1990 trial in New York for corruption and racketeering. In July 1990, Imelda Marcos was acquitted on all corruption charges against her. The statement provides insight into the unofficial power Marcos reportedly held, presenting it in a negative light. Unofficial power is prone to abuse, in part because it is largely unaccountable. It is not, however, invisible. Since the women politicians are a minority (11%), they still have to abide by male rules. In recognition of the existence of women’s unofficial power, wives of congressmen in the Philippines were asked to take an oath of office to the current president in 1992.
Opening Statement of Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Livingston, of the government prosecution panel, at the start of Imelda’s trail:
Judge Kennan, members of the defense, ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
This is a case about theft, fraud and deceit on an incredible scale. It is a case about stolen money and money grabbed by fraud, over $140 million that the defendant Imelda Marcos stole and that she grabbed by fraud and then secretly brought into New York to buy four buildings in Manhattan.
It is also a case about fraud before a United States court, about an obstruction of justice considered in this very courthouse by the defendant Imelda Marcos and by the co-defendant Adnan Khashoggi to deceive the court and to hang on to the fruits of Imelda Marcos’s fraud: her four buildings in Manhattan.
The government will prove that in about two years, from around September 1981 to November 1983, the defendant Imelda Marcos brought over $140 million into New York. The money that came into New York came in in the form of cash from secret bank accounts in Hongkong, in Switzerland, and in the Philippines. Once that money came into New York to purchase those buildings, you will learn that 30 million more dollars came into New York to keep the buildings going. $52 million came in the space of about six months for other purchases in New York unrelated to the buildings. You will learn that that’s only a portion, ladies and gentlemen, of the millions and millions of dollars that Imelda Marcos brought into New York during those years, that she laundered through fictitious accounts, nominee accounts and fake accounts, both here in the United States and overseas, in order to pay for her multi-million dollar purchases, of not only real estate but artwork and jewelry here in New York.
A Criminal Enterprise
Now, ladies and gentlemen, the money that poured into New York during those years, that flooded New York, was stolen money and the proceeds of fraud. The government will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Imelda Marcos and her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, plundered the Republic of the Philippines, their native country, and then exported the fruits of their fraud here. In fact, they exported the fraud itself into the United States and into New York and into this very courthouse.
The government will also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant Imelda Marcos and her husband, Ferdinand Marcos, violated United States law by bringing the proceeds of this theft and fraud here and by misusing United Sates banks and financial institutions here in order to conceal their wealth and to operate a criminal enterprise here in New York.
Ferdinand Marco, ladies and gentlemen was the President of die Republic of the Philippines for about 20 years from around 1965 to 1986. You are going to learn that Imelda Marcos was his wife, but that she wasn’t just his wife; you are going to learn that Imelda Marcos was a high-ranking member of the Philippine government in her own right. She was a cabinet minister. She was the mayor of Metro Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
Imelda Marcos was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Ministry of Human Settlements, a sprawling government bureaucracy in the Philippines that is about like our Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Her Piggy Bank
You are going to learn, ladies and gentlemen, that Imelda Marcos and Ferdinand Marcos together were partners in crime.
Now, you are going to learn that the Marcoses earned a modest income as Philippine government officials. You will learn that during the entire time that the Marcoses were government officials, they earned an average of about $20,000 a year. But you are going to learn, ladies and gentlemen, that during the same time that the Marcoses were legitimately earning $20,000 a year, they were collecting huge sums of money, millions and millions of dollars, as bribes and kickbacks on Philippine government contracts.
During the same period of time Imelda treated the Philippine National Bank, which is the Philippine government bank, as her own personal piggy bank here in New York.
You are going to learn, ladies and gentlemen, that every time that Imelda Marcos descended on New York during those years—and she came here quite frequently—she cracked open that piggy bank. She directed that bundles and bundles of cash be taken out of that New York branch office and delivered to her suite at the Waldorf. She stole money directly out of that New York branch office in New York and put it into her Manhattan real estate and into her multi-million dollar purchases of artwork and jewelry here in the city.
When the time came to pay the bills for Imelda Marcos’s charges to the Philippine National Bank, you will learn that millions of dollars were taken out of that bank’s profit and out of the Philippine treasury, out of the taxes paid by Philippine citizens, to pay for Imelda Marcos’s multi-million dollar purchases here in New York. . . .
The fraud, ladies and gentlemen, still isn’t over. You are going to learn that in March 1986, after the Marcoses left the Philippines and came to live in the United States, the Philippine government went into court here in New York. The Philippine government claimed that the Marcoses’ Manhattan skyscrapers, those four buildings that Imelda Marcos secretly purchased in New York, rightfully belonged to the people of the Philippines because they had been purchased with money stolen from that government. . . .
First, you are going to learn that this fraud existed over a number of years and it was international in scope. It involved activities that reached from the Philippines into Hongkong, into Switzerland and finally into the United States and here into New York. This is a case about exporting fraud on a massive scale into New York. . . .
You are going to learn that in September 1981, Imelda Marcos brought over $48 million into New York to buy the Crown Building. At the same time that she brought that money into New York, she bought a collection of fine art, antiques and porcelain known as the Samuels collection. Imelda Marcos bought that collection through a front, through a nominee, for about $6 million. She is charged with bringing stolen money and the proceeds of fraud into New York to pay for that art collection.
The last couple of crimes in this pattern relates to money that Imelda Marcos laundered through bank accounts in New York to buy mainly jewelry, corporate stock, and artwork.
“Theft, Fraud on an Incredible Scale.” The Philippines Free Press, (May, 1990), 10-13.