x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Philippine court enters not-guilty plea in Arroyo's $8m corruption case

Ex-president appears in wheelchair for third graft case against her.

MANILA // A Philippine court entered a not-guilty plea yesterday for the country's former president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, on charges she misused US$8.8 million (Dh31b) in state lottery funds in the third corruption case against her.

Ms Arroyo is suffering from a neck ailment, and police brought her to the anti-corruption court from a military hospital. She was admitted days before the court served the arrest warrant against her on plunder charges early this month, and ordered her confined under guard.

Ms Arroyo, 65, appeared in a wheelchair and wore a neck brace with a pink scarf. She refused to enter a plea and prompted the judge to record a not-guilty plea on her behalf.

Nine other people, mostly former officials of the state lottery agency, also are charged in the case. They allegedly conspired with Ms Arroyo during her last years in office to divert public funds for her personal gain.

If found guilty, they could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Ms Arroyo's lawyers say the witnesses against her had no personal knowledge of the transactions of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. They have appealed to the country's supreme court to have the case dismissed.

Ms Arroyo finished her tumultuous nine-year term in 2010. Since then, she has been separately charged with vote fraud and in another corruption case but posted bail.

She had already spent eight months under hospital arrest before she was discharged in June.

Ms Arroyo has accused her successor, Benigno Aquino III, of pursuing a political vendetta. Ms Aquino was overwhelmingly elected on a promise to rid the Philippines of corruption and has vowed to prosecute Ms Arroyo and her inner circle, blaming them for stealing money for personal gain and for a culture of impunity in which corrupt practices flourished.

The government has already denied Ms Arroyo's request to seek medical treatment abroad, saying she may not return to face the charges.