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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 11:29 GMT
Estrada admits using fake name
Joseph Estrada
The former president denies all the charges against him
Deposed Philippine President Joseph Estrada has admitted to having signed a false name on a bank document - key evidence in his corruption trial.

But one of his lawyers played down the admission, insisting it did not prove the former president stole money.

I did it to facilitate the loan

Joseph Estrada
Mr Estrada, a former film star, is on trial charged with plundering $80m during his 30-month rule that ended last January. If convicted of plunder he could theoretically face the death penalty.

He has also been charged with perjury and for illegally using an alias to hide his wealth.

On the latter charge, the prosecution allege he used a secret bank account in the fictitious name of Jose Velarde to conceal up to $62.3m. They say documents signed by Mr Estrada in February 2000 show he instructed Equitable-PCI Bank officials to invest $9.7m from the account in question.

Estrada's admission

On Tuesday, in interviews on two Manila radio stations, Mr Estrada said he had signed the name "Jose Velarde" in documents for Equitable-PCI Bank.

Philippine police
Mr Estrada has been in custody since April 2001
But he said he had used the signature merely as a device to facilitate a loan from a businessman friend, Jaime Dichaves, to another friend, William Gatchalian.

Mr Dichaves actually owned the account, but "the Dichaves group would not lend money to Gatchalian if I did not guarantee it," Mr Estrada said.

He said several people saw him sign, including a lawyer friend and the then-palace chief of staff.

Mr Estrada said he had no hesitation signing a false name because the bank's president at the time, George Go, said it was no more than an "internal arrangement" Mr Dichaves and the bank.

Mr Gatchalian's businesses would have "gone bankrupt, leading to job losses," he added.

Prosecution 'boost'

The name Jose Velarde cropped up continually in Mr Estrada's impeachment trial. In December 2000, an Equitable-PCI Bank executive, Clarissa Ocampo, testified that Mr Estrada owned an account in that name containing at least $10m.

Joseph Estrada
Mr Estrada has recently had a cataract operation
But the trial collapsed in January 2001 when prosecutors were denied the opportunity to examine the bank records.

It sparked a peaceful military-backed popular revolt that forced Mr Estrada out of office and brought President Gloria Arroyo to power.

Prosecutors said Mr Estrada's admission on Tuesday confirmed their case against him.

But a lawyer for Mr Estrada said: "Somebody signing a document does not in any way help at all in the prosecution's theory that President Estrada stole money.

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

See also:

09 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada guards removed
11 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada judge 'dismissed'
28 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines corruption judge suspended
19 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada suffers trial setback
10 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada: Movie hero or villain?
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