Philippine president admits consultant accepted check from chief accuser

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine President Joseph Estrada and his chief accuser in a corruption scandal made directly contradictory statements Friday about a $100,000 check that is a key document in the president's impeachment trial.

Estrada said that an American consultant working for him accepted the check but that he was unaware the money came from illegal gambling lords. Provincial Gov. Luis Singson, however, charged that he gave the check to Estrada himself and that the president knew it was gambling money.

The statements involved one of the central allegations in the trial: On Wednesday, Singson testified that the $100,000 check would prove Estrada received payoffs from jueteng, an illegal numbers game popular in the Philippines.

The consultant Estrada named Friday was Paul Bograd, who has worked for him since 1998, conducting polls and giving advice on political strategy. Estrada said Bograd deposited the money in a personal bank account and may have used it to finance opinion polls.

Bograd ''didn't know it came from jueteng,'' Estrada told The Associated Press. ''There's nothing wrong with that.'' He did not explain how or why Bograd got the check.

Singson, however, said he gave the check directly to Estrada, and that the president knew it was jueteng money.

''He took it and gave it to Bograd. It happened in the presidential residence at Malacanang Palace,'' Singson told the AP.

The check, made payable to ''cash,'' bore the number of the account in which it was deposited. The owner of the account had not previously been disclosed.

Estrada is being tried in the Philippine Senate on counts of bribery, graft, betrayal of public trust and violating the constitution. A guilty verdict by two-thirds of the 22-member Senate on any of the four counts would force him from office.

The $100,000 check is the second payment from Singson that Estrada has acknowledged was accepted by aides. Estrada previously said he rejected a bribe of $4 million from Singson but later discovered the money had been given to an aide and ended up in the bank account of a scholarship fund for Muslim youth.

Critics say the Muslim youth foundation was a front used by the president to cover up payoffs. But Estrada insisted Friday that he planned to provide scholarships to 100 people per year to study in the United States.

Singson, a former gambling and drinking pal of Estrada's, kicked off the scandal in October when he alleged that he channeled more than $8 million in payoffs from jueteng and $2.6 million from tobacco taxes to the president. Many business and labor groups have called on Estrada to resign immediately, cutting short the country's political crisis for the good of the economy, regardless of his guilt or innocence.

In testimony Friday, the seventh day of the impeachment trial, Singson said Estrada's son, Jinggoy, collected payoffs from jueteng operators but his involvement was not known by the president, who did not want his children to participate.

''We kept it a secret from the president,'' Singson said.

He said the younger Estrada collected $60,000 a month from jueteng operators. He said Jinggoy Estrada turned over $40,000 to him and pocketed the rest.

Jinggoy Estrada, the mayor of San Juan, a town in metropolitan Manila, has denied any involvement in jueteng. He has said he is ready to testify at the impeachment trial to deny the accusations. He likely will be called to the witness stand next week.

Singson testified Friday that he considered not coming forward with the bribery allegations but decided to go ahead after a botched assassination attempt against him.

Singson said three vehicles filled with armed police officers stopped his bulletproof car and demanded he get out. He said he refused and used a cellular telephone to summon a group of mayors to his assistance.

His account could not immediately be confirmed.

Also Friday, the prosecution got a boost when Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the trial's presiding officer, ruled that banks must provide records sought for the trial because they are not protected by a banking confidentiality law. Prosecutors have said the case will be won or lost on the basis of bank records.


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