S'pore's top court settles dispute over Marcos' Swiss funds

SINGAPORE- Singapore's top court has settled a four-way dispute over who should get $30.1 million in ill-gotten gains left by former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Philippine National Bank (PNB), dismissing the claims of the country's government, five foundations allegedly set up by Marcos to hold the money in Swiss banks, and 9,539 human rights victims of the Marcos era.

In judgment grounds released yesterday, the court explained that it was compelled to reject the victims' claims as the relevant documents considered did not have the legal effect of transferring any "proprietary interest" in the funds to them.

The outcome ends a long saga over the deposits, held in the Singapore branch of German bank WestLB. They comprised US$16.8 million (S$21.3 million) and £4.2 million (S$8.8 million).

In 2004, WestLB applied to the court for it to decide who the rightful owners were in the wake of the competing claims.

Marcos was overthrown in February 1986 and a new government led by Mrs Corazon Aquino recovered the dictator's wealth from Swiss accounts. The Swiss authorities then transferred US$658 million to PNB in 2002 for safekeeping. PNB placed the money in various banks in Singapore and Britain, including WestLB's branch here.

Much of the funds was returned to the Philippine government as no other party claimed the funds until 2003, when the human rights victims staked their claims. They had won a US$1.9 billion judgment in the United States against the Marcos estate for human rights abuses and sought to recover the sum by staking a claim on the $30.1 million with WestLB.

They failed in the High Court here before the Court of Appeal rejected their case. But the court - comprising Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Belinda Ang and Woo Bih Li - 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 have suffered".

It also rejected the claim of the Swiss-based foundations, ruling that their entitlement was lost following the Swiss court orders effecting the transfers.

It affirmed the High Court ruling that PNB held the legal title to the funds, as the depositor of the funds and as the original account holder with WestLB.

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