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Estrada admits signing bank documents as Jose Velarde

Former President Joseph Estrada on Wednesday admitted signing bank documents as "Jose Velarde" in February 2000 but denied owning the controversial Equitable-PCI bank account with deposits amounting to P3.2 billion. Estrada made the admission during his sixth testimony before the Sandiganbayan special division. The P3.2-billion Velarde account was allegedly used by Estrada to launder illegal gambling kickbacks, embezzled state funds and profits from insider trading at the stock exchange. Estrada had previously denied signing documents as "Jose Velarde" after Clarissa Ocampo, EPCI senior vice president, testified during the aborted impeachment trial at the Senate that she witnessed the ousted president sign bank papers using the alias "Jose Velarde." He denied owning the account, which he claimed was owned by businessman Jaime Dichaves, who had earlier publicly claimed ownership of the account. During his cross-examination on Wednesday, Estrada confirmed that Ocampo was indeed only "one foot away" when he signed the bank documents as "Jose Velarde" on Feb. 4, 2000. The signing, he affirmed, happened at the Malacañang Guest House and was witnessed by Manuel Curato, former EPCI bank legal services chief; Aprodicio Laquian, former presidential chief of staff; and lawyer Fernando Chua. Estrada said he signed the bank papers as "guarantor" for a P500-million loan then being sought by plastics tycoon William Gatchalian from businessman Jaime Dichaves, who claimed to be the "real" owner of the controversial account. Estrada was quoted by GMA 7’s DZBB as telling the court that Dichaves asked him to "guarantee" the Gatchalian loan to make sure that he (Dichaves) would be paid back. Dichaves was supposedly wary about Gatchalian's capability to repay the loan. The former president maintained he did not own the account saying: "In the more than 30 years I was in public service I took care never to get my name dirty by engaging in graft and corruption." He, however, failed to explain why he had to sign under a different name. Ocampo and Curato had previously testified that Estrada affixed his "Jose Velarde" signature under the printed words "the principal(s) by" in the bank’s Investment Management Agreement (IMA). They had insisted that the ousted president signed the papers "not as a guarantor, but (as) the principal lender." Both had separately testified that they asked Estrada to sign the documents that authorized the bank to invest part of the Velarde account deposits in another account owned by Gatchalian. Estrada reportedly signed the name "Jose Velarde" at least 15 times on at least six different bank documents at the Malacañang Guest House. The documents, they had said, were requirements for a Gatchalian loan that the bank was facilitating. The defense panel submitted to the Sandiganbayan copies of the investment management agreement, investment guidelines and credit authority all bearing Estrada's "Jose Velarde" signature. The prosecution team led by Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio claimed Estrada’s admission confirmed allegations that the former president used aliases in maintaining bank accounts purportedly used to launder "dirty" money. The hearing was suspended for 15 minutes on the request of defense lawyer Jose Flaminiano. Before the suspension, Villa-Ignacio asked court justices to compel defense lawyers to turn over their mobile phones to the court custodian to “make sure that they do not coach their client on what to tell the court" after the break. GMANews.TV