NEW YORK -- Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, forced from her homeland and now pleading poverty, goes on trial this week on charges arising out of the alleged looting of her homeland's treasury.
The strong-willed widow of Ferdinand Marcos, often called the 'steel butterfly,' has been living a low-profile life in Hawaii since the death of her husband last September. That will end, however, when she shows up in Manhattan federal court Tuesday to face charges of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. She faces a possible 20-year sentence.
The former first lady is charged with conspiring to hide stolen Philippine government funds in lucrative Manhattan real estate investments.
Marcos will go on trial with Saudi Arabian financier Adnan Khashoggi, who faces charges of obstruction of justice and fraud, in allegedly helping to conceal the Marcos's interest in the real estate. Five other people also were indicted in the case.
Throughout her ordeal, Marcos, often ridiculed for her extravagant tastes and enormous shoe collection, has maintained a proud demeanor, even charming onlookers at an arraignment at which she was fingerprinted like a common criminal.
Prosecutors say Marcos, with the aid of Khashoggi, siphoned more than $100 million from her country's treasury before fleeing the 'people power' revolution in 1986 that gave Corazon Aquino the presidency. The indictments covered only a small portion of the billions the Marcoses allegedly stole from their homeland.
Khashoggi, the flashy millionaire and one-time friend of royalty and presidents, is confined to the New York metropolitan area by an ankle bracelet that alerts law enforcement officers if he leaves the region without authorization.
Khashoggi also emerged as a key middleman in the Iran-Contra scandal, which involved U.S. arms sales to Iran and the private airlift to resupply the Nicaraguan Contra rebels at a time when Congress had banned official U.S. aid.
After leaving the Philippines, the Marcoses settled in a comparatively modest ranch-style home in Honolulu.
Her lawyer, John Bartko, said despite her notoriety, Imelda Marcos is no longer a wealthy woman because the Philippine government has effectively frozen Marcos's assets 'anywhere in the world' and the couple had been living on borrowed funds since coming to the United States.
Marcos's $5 million bail was posted by tobacco heiress Doris Duke. But when Marcos arrived in New York for her arraignment in November 1988, she stayed in an $1,800-a-day suite at the Waldorf Towers. During the trial, she reportedly plans to stay in an apartment provided by friends.
The trial begins after a series of pretrial judicial defeats for the defendants.
On March 13 U.S. District Judge John Keenan cleared his desk of all pretrial motions when he refused to let Khashoggi stand trial on his own.
Keenan rebuffed attempts to either dismiss or weaken the 1988 indictment. Those attempts even included an allegation that the former first lady was kidnapped from the Philippines.
In December, attorneys for Mrs. Marcos and the government met to discuss a possible plea agreement, which she rejected.
The prosecution reportedly has some 50 witnesses lined up, including Rodolfo Arambulo, 56, a bank official who was indicted in the case and pleaded guilty to one count of fraud.
The two defendants appeared in court Friday for a conference on jury selection.
The trial is expected to go into July, with the government case alone taking up to three months.
A civil racketeering also suit was filed last year against Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos to recoup any proceeds the former first couple may have received from the alleged racketeering scheme.
The complaint, filed in federal court in Manhattan, asked that the proceeds be distributed to the victims of their crimes, presumably the people of the Philippines.