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Estrada admits to forging signature

Estrada is accused of massive corruption during his term  

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- Deposed Philippine president Joseph Estrada has admitted to signing a false name on a bank document, a crucial charge in his aborted impeachment case.

Prosecutors say it substantiates their theory Estrada maintained a secret bank account where he supposedly stashed his ill-gotten wealth.

Estrada admitted in radio interviews Tuesday that he forged a signature on a bank document under the fictitious name "Jose Velarde".

Prosecutors alleged the document was signed in February 2000, instructing the Equitable-PCI Bank to invest funds from the secret account.

The charge sheet of the Velarde account says at one point it reportedly contained 3.2 billion pesos ($62 million).

But in his explanation, the former leader says the account actually belonged to his businessman friend Jaime Dichaves, and that he had merely signed as a guarantor to ensure Dichaves would loan money to another friend, businessman William Gatchalian.

"The Dichaves group would not lend money to Gatchalian if I did not guarantee it," Estrada said. "I did it to facilitate the loan."

"I signed as guarantor of William Gatchalian, for the account of Jaime Dichaves who owns it," Estrada stressed.

Estrada said Gatchalian's businesses would have "gone bankrupt, leading to job losses" had he refused to sign.

He said he did not hesitate to forge the signature because the then bank president, George Go, had assured him it was an "internal arrangement" between Dichaves and the bank.

Not damaging

Estrada's surprising admission could be used as key evidence against him in his perjury case.

"This merely confirms the prosecution's case that there is unlawful use of an alias and that the beneficial owner of the account is undeniable," Justice Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee told ABS-CBN television.

But Estrada's lawyers were quick to downplay the admission, saying it did not establish that the former leader indeed stole money.

"At no time did President Estrada admit he was Jose Velarde. Somebody signing a document does not in any way help at all in the prosecution's theory that President Estrada stole money," Estrada lawyer Raymond Fortun also told ABS-CBN television.

"They have to prove that (Estrada) had acquired money through ill-gotten means, and that's what the case is all about."

Estrada is facing corruption and plunder charges before the country's anti-graft court. Plunder is a heavier charge since it carries the maximum penalty of death.

Prosecutors alleged Estrada amassed some $77 million in payoffs from illegal gambling operators as well as kickbacks from tobacco taxes and questionable government investments while in office.




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