An attorney for a former Philippine diplomat whose government wants him tried on charges he stole $81,000 in official, funds tried to convine a federal judge in Alexandria yesterday that "bribery and kickbacks" were not out of the ordinary among Philippine officials.
U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis, however, seemed unimpressed by arguments Philip L. Kellogg made for Joselito Casilana Azurin, who is fighting extradition on the theft charges. Azurin was the Philippines highest ranking diplomat in Australia until he sought political asylum in the United States last year.
"Bribery is common" around the world, Lewis said, mentioning the recent admissions by officials of the Lockheed Aircraft Co. that they had given money to officials in Japan. "So what? What's that got to do with slicing cheese?" He asked.
Kellogg appeared before Lewis yesterday to request that federal prosecutors give him any information they may have showing that the money Azurin allegedly brought into the United States was actually done under orders of a Philippine assistant secretary of state.
Azurin gave some of the money to the official designee, Philippine Counsul Armando Fernandez, in Los Angeles, and the rest of it was returned through a diplomatic pouch, Kellogg told Lewis.
After Azurin, a vocal critic of the military regime of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, sought asylum in the United States, the transaction was used against him in "retaliation" for his defection, Kellogg argued.
The attorney told Lewis that he needed the information from prosecutors to prepare his client's defense. The defense rests in part on a section of a treaty between the United States and Australia barring extradition as punishment for political acts.
Lewis and Kellogg that he could have any favorable information in the possession of government prosecutors, but denied his request for a search through the records of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department for similar records.
Lewis also granted permission for Kellogg to contact the State Department, requesting it to ask the Australian government to search its records for information helpful to Azurin.
The merits of the charges against Azurin were not debated yesterday, and are not at issue in the extradition proceeding. Assistant U.S. Attorney Leonie M. Brinkema told Lewis that the only issue to be tried in the United States is whether there is probable cause for Azurin to be extradited to Austria on the embezzlement charge.
Azurin, a slight, 38-year-old veteran of the Philippine diplomatic corps, was charged last April by the Australian government with having cashed an Australian check worth $81,023.25 that was payable to the Philippine government. The transaction allegedly took place shortly before Azurin flew with the money to San Francisco and requested political asylum, a request that is still pending.
Azurin is currently being held in jail without bond.
The Azurin case has become a cause celebre in the small active Philippine exile community here. Raul C. Manglapus, a former Philippine foreign minister living in Washington who is head of the Movement for a Free Philippine group, which is opposed to Marcos, has said that more than $13,000 has been raised for Azurin's defense.
Kellogg and Manglapus have contended in and out of court that if Azurin is ever extradited to Australia, he will eventually be taken back to the Philippines to stand trial. Yesterday, Kellog told Lewis that "even if [Azurin] is acquited of the charges" in Australia, he would "somehow" be taken back to the Philippines. Kellogg did not elaborate.
Shortly after requesting asylum here, Azurin called the Marcos regime "dictorial and ruthless" and said he fled because of conflicts with relatives of Marcos who hold high government positions.
Before he was arrested by FBI agents on April 7, Azurin, his wife, and their five children lived in a rented five-room house in McLean and supported themselves by working as household domestics.
The Philippines and Australian governments have declined comment on the case.