The Justice Department states that a lawyer quoted in an article yesterday was incorrect when he said that an agreement, signed May 14 between the United States and the Philippines, calls for sharing testimony from a federal grand jury in Alexandria with the new Philippine government. Department spokesman John Russell said the pact requires that, upon request, the participating government "use its best efforts" to make available "relevant and material information." Grand jury testimony cannot released without the approval of a federal judge, he said.
A former Philippine ambassador to the United States, who is a brother of longtime Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, asked the federal appeals court today to block prosecutors from forcing him to testify before a grand jury investigating American military contracts with the Marcos government.
Attorneys for Benjamin T. Romualdez told a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that their client was being "whipsawed" between having his grand jury testimony turned over to the new Philippine government or going to jail in this country for failing to testify.
The grand jury, meeting in Alexandria, has offered Romualdez immunity from prosecution, but attorney Robert Bennett indicated that would be of little consolation to his client because of a May 14 agreement between the United States and the government of new Philippine President Corazon Aquino. The agreement calls for the United States to share its grand jury information with the Aquino government, which could bring charges against individuals suspected of wrongdoing.
The same grand jury in Alexandria unsuccessfully has sought to take testimony from the Marcoses' daughter and her husband, Irene and Gregorio Araneta, who have been living in the United States since Ferdinand Marcos was deposed as president four months ago.
After they declined to testify last month, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton found them in contempt of court. The same three-judge panel that upheld that finding heard Romualdez's plea today.
Bennett said that the Aranetas' lawyer, John M. Bray, filed a petition with the Supreme Court Saturday seeking a stay of Hilton's ruling. Details of the hearings involving the Aranetas have been sealed but it is believed that they have been ordered to report to jail July 22.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Greenberg, who is leading the grand jury investigation, said the Justice Department is "not a surrogate prosecutor" for the Aquino government.
Greenberg said the Alexandria inquiry centers on a single defense contract, awarded in 1983, while the overall Philippine investigation "goes back 20 years and is looking at 30 people," including some who have no bearing on the Alexandria case.