A state judge has temporarily halted any financial dealings on five valuable New York properties linked to deposed Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, as the new government in Manila stepped up efforts to recoup what its lawyers call "wealth that properly belongs to the Philippine people."
In another development yesterday, two State Department officials left Washington for Honolulu, Marcos' temporary home-in-exile, to help resolve the increasingly complex legal questions about 22 crates of Philippine pesos as well as documents and valuables that arrived with Marcos and his entourage and are now being held by the U.S. Customs Service.
The Central Bank of the Philippines was seeking an injunction in Honolulu to recover an estimated $1.2 million in pesos reported to be in the crates. But after a hearing yesterday in Hawaii, the bank dropped its request in exchange for a U.S. government promise to make available by Friday a list of everything the Marcoses brought with them to the United States.
Philippine President Corazon Aquino has officially asked the U.S. government to impound the documents and valuables while her government can decide whether to claim ownership, according to Severina Rivera, one of her lawyers. Aquino's government has retained the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights to lead the court fight.
Yesterday in Manhattan, in the first round of many expected legal battles, lawyers for the center announced that they had won a temporary restraining order barring the sale or transfer of the five properties, valued at $350 million. The order was issued late Sunday. Attorneys for both sides were ordered to appear in court Wednesday.
Several witnesses said in congressional hearings late last year that the properties were owned by the Marcoses through a web of offshore corporations, banks and agents. The Washington Post on Sunday reported discovery of detailed records in the Malacanang Palace in Manila documenting the sale of 40 Wall St., one of the prime properties.
Brothers Joseph E. Bernstein and Ralph J. Bernstein, who own New York Land Co., appeared on the palace documents as executors of the purchase.
The Bernsteins, identified as Marcos' agents in the congressional hearings, announced plans last week to sell three of the four major Manhattan buildings. The Philippine government's request for a restraining order was an attempt to block any move that would hinder its legal claims.
Subpoenas were delivered yesterday to the Bernstein brothers and to the Marcos family at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.
Joseph Bernstein said in a statement: "We will be represented at Wednesday's hearing since we have done nothing wrong and no laws have been broken. We look forward to an expeditious resolution of this matter."
It was uncertain whether Marcos would respond to the subpoena. He ended his first week in exile still secluded at Hickam AFB as his aides prepared to meet with immigration officials to resolve his long-term status.
Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi has advised Marcos to buy or lease Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay, a 12-acre site pictured in the introduction to the television series "Gilligan's Island." The asking price is listed as $8.75 million.
On his way to Hawaii from the Philippines, Marcos, his relatives and associates were allowed to charge $12,256.69 in clothing and other articles at an Air Force exchange during an overnight stop in Guam, according to the Associated Press. A State Department spokesman said repayment of the bill "is still being looked at."