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Estrada to file new motion with anti-graft court


In this story:

Cases withdrawn

Withdrawal hurts Desierto's credibility

Ex-president out on bail

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


MANILA, Philippines -- Lawyers for former Philippine president Joseph Estrada are planning to file a new motion against the government ombudsman next week.

Cleofe Versola told CNN that the memorandum requests the anti-graft court, or Sandiganbayan, to remand the cases back to the ombudsman's office.

Estrada's lawyer said the ousted president was never given the chance to call for a preliminary investigation into the charges against him.

"The Supreme Court itself said that we could file the petition for a preliminary investigation with the Sandiganbayan [anti-graft court]", she said.

Cases withdrawn

Versola's comments were made the same day government prosecutors moved to drop five of eight criminal charges against Estrada.

The cases include four graft charges, two based on accusations that Estrada allegedly received bribes from illegal gambling syndicates, and diverted millions of dollars in funds meant to benefit the country's tobacco farmers.

Estrada has already paid bail on the latter charge, for which an arrest warrant was issued late Monday afternoon.

There is no word on what the government, or the anti-graft court, will do with that case.

A fifth case accusing Estrada of violating the government's code of conduct, could also be dropped.

Ombudsman Aniano Desierto said fewer cases would "pre-empt delaying tactics" by Estrada's legal team.

It will also government prosecutors to focus on the charge of economic plunder, he said. That crime is punishable by death, although analysts believe Estrada is not likely to get the maximum penalty.

Withdrawal hurts Desierto's credibility

But the move has hurt Desierto's credibility in his capacity as the country's top prosecutor.

Versola called Desierto's move to withdraw the five charges "a legal blunder", and added it was irresponsible for the ombudsman file cases against Estrada and then go through the "embarrassment" of withdrawing them.

"We were laughing at all the cases when they were first filed, Versola said. "The thing speaks for itself."

Lawyer Harry Roque said Desierto may actually be doing Estrada "a favor" by filing the case with the anti-graft court.

"He [Estrada] can move for a suspension of cases against him by invoking his statutory right for a reinvestigation," Roque said.

"Case proceedings will thus be suspended and no arrest warrants on Estrada will be issued," he said.

The court's reconsideration of any case should take about 90 days, but Roque believes the Estrada case could drag on for years.

Ex-president out on bail

Estrada responded to an arrest warrant Monday by posting $3,000 in bail bonds for several graft charges against him.

"Frankly, we were shocked," Desierto said, reacting to the speed at which Estrada and his lawyers responded to the warrant issued by the Sandiganbayan.

The ex-president and his entourage appeared at the anti-graft court for finger printing and to post bond scant hours after the warrant was presented.

He said Estrada could have only found out about the warrant through a leak in the anti-graft court.

"This proves that there are still Estrada sympathizers [in government]," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Estrada released on bail
16 April 2001
Estrada loses presidency, faces arrest
3 April 2001
Estrada's wife seeks Senate post
13 February 2001
New Philippine president tries to 'hit the ground running'
22 January 2001
Protests as impeachment trial begins
7 December 2000

RELATED SITES:
Philippine Office of the Press Secretary
Philippine Senate

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