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Estrada escapes new charges, for now

Joseph Estrada
Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada sits in court where he is being tried for plunder  

By CNN's Rufi Vigilar

MANILA, Philippines -- Disgraced Philippine leader Joseph Estrada has evaded new charges of corruption after a court delayed proceedings against him.

The former film star was set to be tried on Wednesday for charges of using an illegal alias to open a secret bank account.

But, Anacleto Badoy, one of the court's judges, told CNN the trial was adjourned because of a petition filed by Estrada's lawyers to "quash the case."

But the postponement has heightened concern that court hearings on Estrada's other cases of plunder and perjury may also be delayed.

Alongside the charges of using an alias, 64-year-old Estrada is accused of using illegal gambling proceeds, tobacco tax kickbacks, and other ill-acquired funds.

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He appeared in trial for the first time on Monday, accused of plunder during his 30 months in power and of perjury for allegedly concealing his wealth.

Estrada was ousted in January when an impeachment trial against him was aborted, triggering massive protests backed by the military.

Lawyers squabble

The court adjournment comes as tension continues to fester between the anti-graft court and government prosecutors on one hand and Estrada's lawyers on the other.

The former president's lawyers boycotted the start of the deposed leader's trial for alleged plunder Monday.

Although he had invoked his right to waive a court appearance, Estrada arrived haggard wearing slippers and escorted by the police. Estrada accused the court of "judicial terrorism".

Two separate motions filed by the prosecution and defense lawyers are likely to affect the progress of the plunder trial.


Estrada appeared in court on Monday without slippers
Estrada appeared in court on Monday without slippers  

Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, the chief government prosecutor, made an "oral motion" Monday to hold Estrada lawyers in contempt.

He called the moves of Estrada's lawyers a "tactical strategy" to postpone the plunder trial.

"They want to postpone the trial until the proper political climate," Desierto told CNN.

"Why can they appear to file a motion, but cannot appear for the trial," Desierto asked.

Meanwhile, Estrada lawyer Rene Saguisag filed a motion Tuesday to nullify Monday's trial proceedings.

Saguisag said Estrada's defense team was absent because the court had set the trial date without consideration for their previous commitments.

Estrada and his two co-accused, son Jinggoy and former lawyer Eduardo Serapio, were "denied their human and constitutional right to counsel," Saguisag said.

Defense lawyer Raymond Fortun also called Monday's hearing "premature", since the Supreme Court had not yet ruled on their motion questioning the legality of the plunder law and calling for the trial's postponement.

Estrada's plunder trial is set to resume on October 17, while his trial for perjury begins on October 29.


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