The White House will ask the Justice Department to investigate documents brought here by deposed Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos and his entourage, anticipating that the records may show the Marcos group amassed its wealth through violations of U.S. law, officials said yesterday.
A senior administration official said the government is treating the documents with unusual care and secrecy because "we don't want to poison the evidence" if it is needed in the extensive legal proceedings that are expected to follow.
The official said this was being done so that possible prosecutions would not be jeopardized by claims of U.S. government impropriety. Another goal, he said, is to head off congressional second-guessing of the administration's handling of the evidence.
The Justice Department probe would focus primarily on the business documents brought to Hawaii by Marcos and his associates, including former armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver and coconut magnate Eduardo Cojuangco, officials said.
Ver is being investigated by an Alexandria, Va., grand jury probing possible bribery and kickbacks in U.S. military aid to the Philippines. There also have been frequent allegations that Marcos and close associates received questionable payments from foreign corporations doing business in the Philippines.
Early next week, the U.S. Customs Service is expected to complete an inventory of the documents, which include detailed financial and business records of the Marcos party's worldwide holdings. That inventory is only the first step in what is expected to be a protracted review of the documents by Justice officials.
Marcos, his family and associates brought the documents into this country when they departed Manila last week along with currency, jewels and other valuables.
Yesterday in Honolulu, the Customs Service presented the Central Bank of the Philippines with an accounting of the Philippine currency: 30,592,930 pesos, worth about $1.2 million, mostly in 100-peso notes and most of it packaged in 22 boxes. The Marcos party declared and was allowed under U.S. law to keep about $100,000 worth of pesos.
Although a large-scale investigation could prove embarrassing to President Reagan, who offered Marcos "safe haven," White House officials said the president told them Marcos would enjoy no immunity from prosecution here.
The administration has set up formal procedures to handle the contents of the Marcos party planes once the Customs inventory is complete. Officials said that copies of the inventory will be given to Marcos and to the new government of Corazon Aquino in Manila.
Under the procedures, both sides will be asked to claim what they believe is theirs. Any disputes will be refereed by a federal court judge in Hawaii, in what is known as an interpleader process, officials said.
"We anticipate that sometime next week the entire matter will be turned over to the courts," Customs spokesman Dennis Murphy said.
Officials said it was not clear whether the disputed documents would be filed publicly as evidence in the case but State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said yesterday that "we will provide the government in Manila with what it is requesting."
Aquino is pressing for access to the documents as part of an investigation that hopes to seize what is being called the "ill-gotten" wealth of the Marcos era. The papers now in Hawaii represent the most detailed "paper trail" available of how that wealth was amassed, U.S. officials said. The inventory to be presented to Aquino and Marcos merely describes each document, but does not reveal its contents, according to several officials.
A senior official said that if Justice Department officials find evidence of crimes in the documents, violations of U.S. law will be pursued at that department and violations of foreign laws will be referred to the State Department.
It is unclear whether Marcos, his wife, Imelda, and 88 others who flew to Hawaii with them realized that their documents and possessions would fall into official hands.
Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), who talked to Marcos by phone before his departure and again this week, said that the ousted president left Malacanang Palace in Manila believing he would be flown to his home province. Upon Marcos' arrival at Clark Air Base outside Manila, however, the new Philippine government and the Reagan administration told Marcos he had to leave the country.
In Honolulu last night, an Air Force spokesman said that 21 members of Marcos' party, including "some of his children," have left Hickam Air Force Base, but he declined to say where they are living, or even if they are still in Hawaii. The spokesman said Marcos and Ver remain on the base.
New details emerged yesterday about the administration's knowledge that its military transport planes -- provided to evacuate Marcos and his entourage from the turbulent situation in Manila -- would also be carrying currency and valuables out of the country.
At the State Department, Kalb said that some U.S. officials in Manila "had indications" at the time the planes were preparing to depart "that there was a large sum of Filipino currency" among the baggage.
"The departure from Clark was -- how to put it -- hurried, and . . . the U.S. priority at that time was to help the Marcos party leave the Philippines rapidly in order to assist in a peaceful transition to a new government," Kalb said.
Meanwhile, controversy has arisen over the Marcos party's credit purchases, estimated at almost $40,000, at military base stores. The group has been separated from its baggage since leaving Manila, and has been allowed to charge items, officials said.