Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Joseph Estrada found guilty, sentenced to life in jail

PLUNDER The actor-turned-politician was convicted of taking millions in kickbacks and bribes. But he was sent back to house arrest instead of going straight to prison

AFP , MANILA

Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada waves before departing the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court in Quezon City near Manila after he was found guilty of plunder and sentenced to life in prison.

PHOTO: EPA

Former Philippine president and movie star Joseph Estrada was found guilty of massive corruption yesterday and ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Winding up a six-year trial that the 70-year-old had repeatedly insisted was politically motivated, a special anti-corruption court ruled he was guilty of plundering tens of millions of dollars in tax kickbacks and bribes.

It also confiscated US$87 million from his bank accounts that had been frozen during the trial. Estrada slumped in his chair as the verdict was read and later vowed to appeal.

"I disagree with the findings and conclusions of the court. These conclusions, however, did not come as a surprise to us," he said, urging his supporters to stay calm.

In a meeting of Estrada's family and lawyers later, his daughter, Jackie Lopez, openly sobbed while Estrada's son, San Juan Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito, had tears streaming down his face.

Estrada said the verdict "appeared to be a political move" that came after pressure from his arch-rival and successor, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

"Against the advice of my friends I submitted myself to the judiciary believing that the case would be tried on its merits," he said before being flown by helicopter back to his luxurious compound, where he will remain under house arrest for now.

The case has marked a bitter chapter in Philippine politics that began when the onetime action hero was ousted from power in 2001, a move which led to violent street protests.

Estrada has accused the nation's business elite, Arroyo and the Roman Catholic church of conspiring against him because of his populist platform.

He said on Tuesday he had twice rejected offers from Arroyo to clear his name in exchange for his voluntary exile.

Arroyo welcomed the verdict and said the "rule of law" should prevail.

"We have a country to run, an economy to grow and a peace to win. We hope that this sad episode in our history will not permanently distract us from these goals," an Arroyo spokesman said.

The expected huge crowds of pro-Estrada protesters failed to materialize, although outside the court several hundred people stood in the rain waving flags and banners in support of the deposed leader, who remains hugely popular among much of the nation's disenfranchised.

"That is not the will of the poor. He is my president," cried street vendor Loretta Barrias, 55, as colleagues calmed her down.

"He is the people's president, set him free!" she sobbed.

The politically influential Roman Catholic church urged Estrada's supporters to follow the rule of law and not take to the streets.

National police chief Oscar Calderon said the rallies have been generally peaceful, but said a heightened state of alert would remain until the situation normalizes.

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