Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada turned himself on Monday after an anti-corruption court ordered his arrest on charges of stealing more than $4.2 million in government funds, the Office of the President of the Philippines reported.
The court said that it collected enough evidence to charge Estrada, the son of a former president, with “plunder,” a charge for massive corruption that does not qualify for bail and carries a possible sentence of life imprisonment, the Organized Crime and Reporting Project (OCRP) said.
Estrada is the third high-profile politician to be indicted in a scandal that involves more than 100 lawmakers embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars of government funds intended for development projects.
The anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, indicted senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla on the same charge earlier this month.
Enrile was the chief enforcer of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and Revilla is a show-business star, as well as the son of another movie star-turned-senator.
Five of their staffers and a businesswoman, Janet Lim-Napoles, the alleged masterminded of the scam, were also indicted.
The defendants allegedly allocated millions of dollars from their official funds to phony non-government organizations which then paid them huge kickbacks.
If convicted, Enrile, Estrada and Revilla could face life in prison.
The three senators have denied the charges against them. Estrada said that the evidence against him is weak. “I will fight for this case to my last breath,” he said, according to ABC News.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said that nearly $4.6 million (USD) is lost every year due to corruption, Bloomberg reported.
Aquino based his 2010 presidential election platform on fighting corruption and has been criticized for targeting certain politicians to protect his allies involved in the scandal. All three of the indicted senators belong to parties opposing his own. Aquino denies such accusations, the OCRP said.
Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.