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Marcos seized Japanese war booty to amass fortune, Imelda says

MANILA, Philippines -- Imelda Marcos, accused of looting the Philippine treasury, said Monday her late husband found Japanese army World War II booty and engaged in the profitable trade of precious metals to build their wealth.

But the widow of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos said she kept quiet about the treasure find because 'the amounts were so astronomical in proportions that it will be embarrassing at that point to even say (anything) about it.'

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The former Philippine first lady, who returned in November from six years of U.S. exile, faces over 80 tax fraud and graft charges steming from accusations she helped her husband loot the treasury of some $5 billion during a 20-year rule.

The Marcoses were ousted in a popular uprising in 1986 and forced into exile in Hawaii, where the former ruler died in 1989.

Marcos, who fought the Japanese in World War II, was rumored to have found the treasure believed plundered by Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita from all over Southeast Asia.

The fabled treasure has been the object of many treasure hunts, including one approved by the government of President Corazon Aquino.

'I understand there was some Yamashita gold. That is true,' Marcos said at a news conference. She declined to say how much the booty was worth.

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Marcos said her husband 'saw that this was a very good investment .. . and so he started investing himself and he started getting into precious metals.'

She said her husband put some of the money in the government coffers.

Marcos, who is running for president in elections scheduled for May 11, said she saw the 'stacks of gold and money' and at one point threw them away.

'I threw these blocks that looked like bricks out of the garden ... not knowing these were gold,' she said.

Solicitor General Francisco Chavez, who filed the criminal cases against Marcos, said the former first lady was using the Yamashita story to justify her wealth.

'The myth of the Yamashita treasure is being utilized to explain away a clear case of graft and corruption,' he said. 'The only problem is that her explanation is not always acceptable in the face of the documents we have in our possession.'

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