June 15, 2007 / 5:29 AM / 11 years ago

Trial of Philippines' Estrada comes to a close

MANILA (Reuters) - Deposed Philippine President Joseph Estrada said on Friday he was confident an anti-corruption court would clear him of charges of plunder, as the three-judge bench heard final arguments in the case.

The former film star was overthrown in an army-backed revolt in 2001 and charged with four counts of corruption. He is accused of stealing up to $80 million from state coffers while in power.

The judges are expected to hand down a verdict within the next 60-90 days. If found guilty, Estrada faces a life sentence.

“Well, I feel that finally I will be acquitted,” the former president told television station ABS-CBN at his villa outside Manila, where he is held under house arrest, before being brought to court.

“Anything can still happen under this administration,” he said, adding the charges against him were politically motivated after he refused to formally quit the presidency in 2001 and go into exile.

State prosecutors submitted 626 pages of case summaries based on testimonies of 76 witnesses and documentary evidence, arguing it had presented enough proof to establish Estrada’s guilt with “absolute certainty”.

Estrada’s lawyers have 276 pages of summaries from about 80 witnesses, disputing the prosecution evidence and arguing the state has failed to prove the charges of taking gambling payoffs, tobacco tax kickbacks and unreported income from hidden businesses.

Still popular among poor Filipinos who voted him into office in 1998 and a figure of fun due to his carousing past, Estrada took the witness stand 11 times from March to June 2006, denying the corruption charges.

Renowned for his “midnight cabinet” of drinking and gambling buddies while president, Estrada, now 70, says the mass street protests that drove him from office were engineered by the country’s elite and a group of Catholic bishops and generals.

In March, a close associate of Estrada pleaded guilty to corruption and was sentenced to at least two years and four months in jail. He was later freed on parole.

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