Widow of Philippine dictator acquitted of tax evasion

A Philippine court acquitted the widow of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos on Wednesday convicted of tax evasion filed 16 years ago, officials and her lawyer said.

Imelda Marcos, a wealthy socialite who gained fame for her diamond-encrusted tiaras and 1,220 pairs of shoes, had at one point faced more than 900 criminal and civil cases, mostly for violation of graft and corruption laws during her husband's 20-year rule.

But many have been dismissed, with only 40 criminal cases and fewer than 20 civil suits remaining, said her lawyer, Robert Sison.

Judge Rosa Samson-Tatad of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court dismissed the tax evasion cases against Marcos after noting "the failure of the prosecution to discharge the burden of proof and overcome the constitutional presumption of innocence."

The five cases include Marcos' alleged failure to file a tax return and to pay 33,734 pesos (US$730; EUR547) in taxes on her income in 1985 as an officer of two government agencies; her alleged failure to pay 5.7 billion pesos (US$124 million; EUR92.92 million) estate taxes in 1989 and to file a tax return for estate worth 9.5 billion pesos (US$206.5 million; EUR154.74 million). A fifth case is for her alleged failure to notify the tax bureau of her husband's death in 1989.

"Thank God that at last, after 21 years, once again, justice for the Marcos family has prevailed," Marcos said in a statement. "I am very happy, because this is not just for the Marcoses - justice for the Marcoses will ultimately (lead to) to justice for the Filipino people."

An emotional Marcos shed tears when the judge announced the dismissal of the cases.

A "people power" revolt ousted Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986, forcing him and his family to flee to Hawaii, where he died in exile in 1989.

The government said it has recovered at least 80 billion pesos (US$1.7 billion; EUR1.27 billion) in cash and assets from the Marcoses and their associates over two decades, including Swiss bank deposits now worth at least US$680 million (EUR509.55 million).

Ricardo Abcede, in charge of a commission recovering the Marcoses' wealth, said last year about 220 billion pesos (US$4.78 billion;EUR3.58 billion) worth of assets are tied up in criminal and civil cases in the Philippines against the Marcoses and their associates. The total amount of the Marcoses' assets abroad is unknown.