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Philippine bank gets Marcos loot in Singapore court ruling

The decision of Singapore's top court to recognize the right of the Philippine National Bank (PNB) to hold in trust the US$23 million seized from the estate of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos does not jeopardize the legal position of the Philippine government, the Office of the President (OP) said on Saturday.

The OP even viewed this as a “positive” development, denying that the ruling effectively junked the claim of the Philippine government over the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses.

On Thursday, Singapore's Court of Appeal ruled in favor of the PNB, dismissing the claims of the Philippine government, five foundations allegedly set up by Marcos to hold the money in Swiss banks, and 9,539 human rights victims of the Marcos regime.

The outcome ends a long saga over the Marcos Swiss deposits, held in the Singapore branch of German bank WestLB.

In its ruling, the Singapore court explained that it was compelled to reject the rights victims' claims as the relevant documents considered did not have the legal effect of transferring any “proprietary interest” in the funds to them.

But the court made clear that the rejection would “not in any way deny the moral claims of the human rights victims and acknowledge that the human rights victims deserve redress for the grievous wrongs that they suffered.”

The court also rejected the claim of the Swiss-based foundations, saying that their entitlement was lost following the Swiss Federal Supreme Court orders effecting the transfers.

Swiss authorities transferred US$658 million to the PNB in 2002 for safekeeping. The PNB then placed the money in various banks in Singapore, including the branch of WestLB, and in Britain.

Positive light Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, quoting Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) Chair Andres Bautista, said: “The PCGG views the Singapore decision in a positive light. While the court ruled that the PNB has legal title to the account, the PNB holds the monies in its capacity as a trustee for the Republic pursuant to an escrow agreement with the government.”

The funds, comprising US$16.8 million and 4.2 million British pounds (US$6.58 million), were part of the alleged ill-gotten wealth that Marcos stashed away in several Swiss bank accounts.

The appeals court affirmed Singapore's High Court ruling that the PNB held the legal title to the funds as depositor of the money as well as original account holder with WestLB.

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