The Valentine's Day caper - Part 4

Back to Manila

Irene and Greggy returned to Manila via Lufthansa Flight LH 750 on Saturday, 24 February.

On Friday, 2 March, the Philippine Supreme Court unexpectedly released its decision to confirm the legitimacy of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency denying Joseph Estrada's quo warranto petition. Earlier, the Supreme Court had announced that its ruling would be released on 13 March.

During Estrada's brief reign, the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) has not been very aggressive in pursuing the Marcos Swiss accounts. Estrada is a close associate of the Marcos family. His ouster increased the pressure on the couple to transfer the money fast.

Now, under the Arroyo administration, currently staffed mainly by former President Ramos' cabinet members, the slack the Marcos heirs have been enjoying is likely to tighten.

Immediately on the Monday following the Supreme Court decision, on 5 March, Irene, who was already in Manila, faxed a letter, again using Pecabar's letterhead, to Deutsche Bank Dusseldorf, reinstating her 14 February instructions to transfer funds from UBS. Irene and Greggy were hoping they might just be able to pull off the money withdrawal this time, something they had not been able to do in 15 years.

Tiny money and elaborate machinations

The five documents executed by Irene on Valentine's day (four banking instructions and one power of attorney) point to an elaborate scheme whereby she closed an existing account (885931) with UBS Lugano and issued instructions to transfer the money to her newly-opened account (7690779) at Deutsche Bank Dusseldorf, Germany.

The American facilitators were supposed to help Irene transfer her funds from UBS to Deutsche Bank for 25%. Edna Guiyab (also known as Edna Camcam) is a long time friend of Imelda Marcos, the wife of the former president. Her cut in this deal was 6% of the 75% left after the Americans got theirs.

So what's the big deal about this single UBS account? It is probably the most famous bank account in the world for Filipinos and only recently shadowed by the local bank account of former President Joseph Estrada under the alias Jose Velarde. But yet, the UBS account does not supposedly exist.

The Philippine Senate inquired into the status of the account in 1999, when Australian financial investigator Reiner Jacobi furnished information to them, including printouts from the UBS computer with the account number.

But UBS and the Swiss Federal authorities informed the Philippine government that such a numbering system did not exist. This irritated former Solicitor-General Frank Chavez to the extent that he filed a criminal complaint against the Swiss banking officials who denied its existence.

Therefore, when Irene appeared in Dusseldorf and though documentary evidence confirmed the existence of the UBS account, it appeared to be the bombshell the Philippine government had been waiting for over15 years.

But with all this cacophony, how much money is really involved? According to records submitted to the Philippine Senate, as of 1998, Irene's UBS account 885931 alone, without the sub-accounts, amounted to about $13.2 billion, and is currently estimated at $14 billion. By way of comparison, the combined market capitalization of Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway and Cathay Pacific Airways is $13.5 billion.

The American facilitator and his colleagues were to have been earmarked $3.3 billion, not bad compensation you might think for the simple task of finding a friendly banker at Deutsche Bank to help opening an account for Irene. Edna Guiyab's share would be $594 million.

These people opened their Deutsche Bank accounts for the purpose of these "commissions" on 15 February, a day after Irene sent instructions to UBS to close her account 885931and transfer the money to Deutsche Bank.

Double-crossing bounty-hunters

Unknown to Irene, however, two people were sipping coffee in Deutsche Bank's lounge when she went to the bank and opened an account on 12 February.

These two were Reiner Jacobi and David Chaikin. Deutsche Bank and German government officials had in fact chosen the Deutsche Bank officer who personally handled Irene's account opening. The bank's security cameras recorded the visits of Irene, Greggy, Edna, the Americans, and three others.

Among these participants, the most significant is the Australian Reiner Jacobi. His name strikes terror into the hearts of the Marcoses. He was hired, for a finder's fee, by the PCGG to locate Marcos wealth abroad. For over 10 years, the PCGG has not paid him.

He has since seriously doubted the sincerity of the PCGG to recover the Marcos money. Yet in 1998, he discovered a UBS account number 885931 under the name of "I. Arenetta". The misspelling did not fool the Filipino public, although the PCGG was apparently fooled.

The PCGG accepted UBS s statement that the basic client number did not exist in Zurich. In a letter dated January 18, 1999 to the PCGG, Dieter Jann, Examining Magistrate, Zurich, wrote:

"Reference is made to the inquiry submitted by the Philippine Commission on Good Government on November 10, 1997 in respect of the accounts at UBS, formerly Schweizerische Bankgessellschaft, Bahnhofstrasse 45, 8021 Zurich, in the name of Irene Araneta (or Aranetta), namely client no. 885931 and account no. 725.70.367.0, and the documents which you have submitted to us. I have investigated the matter in the meantime.

"Our investigation has shown that such account numbers do not exist and that the system used in the documents submitted is not in line with the system used at UBS (or the one which was used by Schweizerische Bankgessellschaft). UBS does not hold the assets described in the documentation."

Of course it did not exist in Zurich. It existed in Lugano. This legalistic distinction was later mouthed by the Swiss authorities in their reply to the Philippine government, but distilled into a more simplistic line: the account does not exist at all. Later on, UBS changed its line to: the account exists, but is owned by a company, Sandy Anstalt of Vaduz in the Principality of Liechtenstein.

In the case of Argenal vs. UBS in California, a company called Laconfida in Lugano, Switzerland claims to be one of the directors of Sandy Anstalt through a representative.

Laconfida declared that the Sandy Anstalt accounts are not held in the name of or for the benefit of the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Ferdinand F. Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand R. Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. Imee Marcos, Sandy Foundation, Philippine National Oil Corporation, Enrique Vasques, Marcan Corporation, Marcan Inc. Marcon Corporation or Marcon Inc.

Yet notice that Laconfida missed the name of Irene.

According to the Liechtenstein Public Registry, the directors of the Sandy Anstalt as of April 1993 were the company Laconfida SA and a certain Engelbert Schreiber.

Our sources have mentioned that Irene could not have closed the UBS account because there was a second signatory to the account. Could Schreiber be the missing co-signatory before Irene could withdraw from account 885 931?

At the time Jacobi discovered it in 1998, he was vilified by Philippine government officials, and the news suffered a natural death. The balance of the main account at that time was over $13 billion and it seemed too large to be credible to the PCGG and the Estrada government.

This is the reason why Irene did not withdraw the money from UBS directly. The Philippine government has a standing request with the Swiss authorities to report any discovery of Marcos assets and freeze them.

If Irene went to Lugano, Switzerland, Swiss authorities would have been alerted and her accounts would have been frozen. By transferring the money secretly from UBS Lugano to Deutsche Bank Dusseldorf, she was assured by the American facilitators that she could withdraw the money without hitch.

At any rate, her physical presence alone in Switzerland would have alerted the Philippine embassy there. Besides the entire Philippine press pack would have swarmed around her, if they get wind that she had applied for a Swiss visa. Irene plus a Swiss bank is too good a story to miss.

How did Jacobi know that Irene was coming over to Dusseldorf? Simple. He himself facilitated the choice of Deutsche Bank, the accommodating account officer, and other details.

Bribing the hunter

Unknown to the Filipino group, the American facilitators had approached Jacobi to help them transfer the money from Switzerland and Liechtenstein to Germany.

The Americans thought that $3.3 billion would silence Jacobi and Chaikin, after emphasizing to them that the PCGG will never pay Jacobi any finder's fee.

Jacobi, in turn, contacted the German authorities and the whole trap was set. Jacobi double-crossed the Americans and the Aranetas.

Irene and Greggy and the Filipino facilitators Guiyab and Reyes did not know Jacobi was helping them, and the Americans kept this information from them. Otherwise, there was no way the Marcoses would have dealt with the person who had indefatigably hounded their bank assets for a decade.

Another reason why the American facilitators insisted on operating out of Germany instead of Switzerland is that Jacobi is wanted by Swiss authorities for economic espionage in trying to access bank records such as Irene's UBS account.

The Valentine's Day caper
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