The $10bn question: what happened to a Marcos millions?

In a early hours of a Feb morning in 1986, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos flew into exile. After 21 years as trainer of a Philippines, Marcos had fraudulent one too many elections. The army had incited opposite him, and a people had come out on to a streets in their thousands. The Marcoses had seen a predicament entrance and been means to ready their escape, so when they landed that morning during a Hickham USAF bottom in Hawaii, they brought copiousness of security with them.

The central US etiquette record runs to 23 pages. In a dual C-141 ride planes that carried them, they had packed: 23 wooden crates; 12 suitcases and bags, and several boxes, whose essence enclosed adequate garments to fill 67 racks; 413 pieces of jewellery, including 70 pairs of jewel-studded cufflinks; an ivory statue of a tot Jesus with a china covering and a solid necklace; 24 bullion bricks, stamped “To my father on a 24th anniversary”; and some-more than 27m Philippine pesos in freshly-printed notes. The sum value was $15m.

This was a happening by any standards, simply adequate to see a integrate by a rest of their lives. Yet a new supervision of a Philippines knew this was customarily a unequivocally tiny partial of a Marcoses’ wealth. The reality, they discovered, was that Ferdinand Marcos had amassed a happening adult to 650 times greater. According to a successive guess by a Philippine autarchic court, he had amassed adult to $10bn while in office.

Since his central income had never risen above $13,500 a year, it was blazingly transparent this was stolen resources on a many fantastic scale. Some of his closest allies also stole billions. As their plant was a republic in that 40% of a people tarry on reduction than $2 a day, a Republic of a Philippines motionless urgently to try to collect a money.

Even amid a disharmony of a revolution, a unequivocally initial executive sequence released by a new president, Cory Aquino, determined a Presidential Commission on Good Government, a PCGG. It was to redeem “all ill-gotten resources amassed by former trainer Ferdinand Marcos, his evident family, relatives, subordinates and tighten associates” and given a energy to seclude any resources believed to be a deduction of crime.

Thirty years later, a PCGG is still working, a 94 lawyers, researchers and administrators housed proudly in a building recovered from a Marcos family. The supervision gives it an annual bill of $2.2m. Its staff have traced income by jurisdictions all over a universe and fought their approach by hundreds of probity cases. And nonetheless something has left terribly wrong: to date, a PCGG has recovered customarily a fragment of what was stolen by a Marcos network; no one has served a jail judgment for their partial in a crime.

Bongbong Marcos campaigns for a vice-presidency

Bongbong Marcos campaigns for a vice-presidency. Photograph: Erik de Castro

Now, with a charge still distant from complete, a presence is threatened by a domestic growth that would never have been expected by a crowds who swelled a streets in delight as Marcos fled. The former president’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, generally famous as “Bongbong”, is a frontrunner to spin vice-president in a inhabitant elections on 9 May. If he wins, he would have a energy to close down a PCGG, as domestic allies of his family have attempted to do in a past. The world’s biggest burglar will have won.

Last month we was given unlimited entrance to a huge repository a PCGG has fabricated in a years of tellurian investigator work: a president’s handwritten diary, frequently puffed with self-regard; a notepaper headed “From a bureau of a president”, with scribbled sums forever totting adult his cash; mins of association meetings with his comments scrawled in a margins; contracts; “side agreements”; annals of mixed bank accounts; hundreds of share certificates; private investigators’ reports; and tens of thousands of pages of probity judgments.

It needs to be pronounced that this is not about Imelda Marcos and her barbarous collection of shoes, nonetheless her offered robe is real. She bought redolence not by a unit though by a gallon. She hoarded aged masters; during one point, she attempted to buy Tiffany Co. But in this sole playground she was customarily a clown, her crazy expenditure deflecting courtesy from a vast savage that was out of a cage.

The PCGG repository tells a inside story of a biggest burglary in history, and of a master rapist who organized it: skilful, arrogant, cruel. It also opens a doorway into a offshore universe suggested by the Panama Papers. Marcos was one of a initial to feat a rats’ nest of tip jurisdictions and dark tenure afterwards in a early stages of being built underneath a floorboards of open life.

But what is many critical about Marcos is that he committed his crimes as a politician. His career starts with a cynicism that now seems informed – utilizing electorates, regulating income to buy energy and energy to make money. But he went one vast step serve in merging politics and finance, converting a instruments of supervision into one immeasurable income machine. A handful of other autocrats were also bustling dark from their people in that epoch – in Haiti, Nicaragua, Iran – though Marcos stole some-more and he stole better. Ultimately, he emerges as a laboratory citation from a early stages of a contemporary epidemic: a tellurian contamination of crime that has given widespread by Africa and South America, a Middle East and tools of Asia. Marcos was a indication of a politician as thief.

A singular ask in a Manila repository outlines a start of a investigator story. In a sworn deposition, a immature polite menial named Chito Roque describes how, on a night a Marcoses flew into exile, he worked his approach by a crowds outward a presidential residence to a gates where concerned soldiers were posted. He was with his boss, a comparison central in a new government, and they eventually found their approach into a middle sanctum, a Marcoses’ private vital quarters. There, they could see a signs of reckless flight: food still comfortable on a dining table, dull boxes, papers sparse on a floor, shredding machines pressed with some-more paper.

His trainer went home, though Chito wandered into a bedroom of a deposed president, where “I saw a filing cupboard and we non-stop a initial drawer and we saw a protected inside and there were numbers, a mixed that was pasted on a door, so we followed a mixed and non-stop a safe.” Inside, he found annals of bank accounts in Switzerland and Canada, share certificates and several letters sealed by Marcos.

Those papers now lay in a offices of a PCGG, along with thousands some-more retrieved from a residence and a 50 or so other properties a Marcoses and their allies owned in a Philippines, and from homes and offices in a US. As a years have left by, hundreds of thousands of pages have been combined from other sources, all now sitting, orderly ordered, in a white, two-storey building circuitously a centre of Manila. Outside, a six-lane highway is tangled with traffic, bellowing and belching fumes. Inside, all is ease and cool. A notice asks visitors pleasantly to leave their firearms during reception.

Ferdinand Marcos with Richard Nixon after a assembly during a White House in 1969

Ferdinand Marcos with Richard Nixon after a assembly during a White House in 1969. Photograph: Getty Images

In a early years, a PCGG papers suggest, Marcos was genuine in his crime. With sacks of income from abounding backers and assistance from a CIA, a splendid immature counsel won elections to congress, afterwards a senate, though he was zero special, usually another “Mr Ten Per Cent” offered his domestic influence. After he became President Ten Per Cent in 1965, his income from kickbacks for supervision contracts increased, though his deception went no serve than stashing $215,000 in a New York bank in his possess name. As distant as a annals show, he and Imelda took their initial stairs to genuine privacy on 20 Mar 1968, when they used fake names to deposition $950,000 in 4 accounts with Credit Suisse, he as William Saunders (he practised his new signature on a headed paper), she as Jane Ryan. By Feb 1970, a Swiss accounts were so loaded, a integrate combined an additional covering of concealment, transferring their tenure to foundations purebred in Liechtenstein. Then Marcos started to get unequivocally clever.

On 21 Sep 1972, he announced martial law. As his diary records, a Nixon administration consented as he close down congress, arrested his domestic opponents, took control of a media and courts, and dangling all polite rights. On a same day – as a PCGG workman forked out to me with some passion – he took time off to open another Swiss bank account. In his diary a week later, reflecting on his “reforms”, Marcos wrote: “The legitimate use of force on selected targets is a unequivocal tip of a remodel movement.”

Over a following 9 years, an estimated 34,000 trade unionists, tyro leaders, writers and politicians were tortured with electric shocks, exhilarated manacles and rape; 3,240 group and women were dumped upheld in open places; 398 others simply disappeared. With sum energy over politics, a trainer sealed in on a country’s wealth.

This was no longer usually about kickbacks. Marcos started to take whole companies, regulating a wanton strategy of a gangster. He wanted a nation’s electricity company, Meralco, owned by Eugenio Lopez, primogenitor of one of a families who had run a republic for centuries. He had Lopez’s son charged with plotting to murder him, that carried a genocide penalty. The aged oligarch handed over his association for $220 (it was value $400m). To have gunmen is a gangster’s requirement; to have gunmen in uniforms, with all a energy of a state behind them, is a gangster’s dream.

Yet many of Marcos’s takeovers concerned no violence. Martial law authorised him, literally, to write his possess law: his decrees upheld true on to a supervision book. When he wanted to take over a sugarine industry, he set adult companies and afterwards released decrees that authorised them to browbeat a planting, logging and general selling of Philippine sugar, that accounted for 27% of trade earnings. He afterwards combined a Philippine Exchange Company, intended it should hoop all unfamiliar sugarine sales and used a corner position to buy from farmers during rock-bottom prices and sell during immeasurable profit. This authorised him to buy Northern Lines, that had a agreement to boat a sugarine overseas. Finally, he intended that a sugarine attention be free from minimum-wage law, with a outcome that 500,000 labourers saw their income tumble to reduction than $1 a day, creation even some-more profit.

Marcos’s scribbled sums counting his stolen millions on headed notepaper

Marcos’s scribbled sums counting his stolen millions. Photograph: Nick Davies

The PCGG repository shows how, in a same way, Marcos used his possess companies to take over a 3 other pivotal areas of agriculture: coconuts, tobacco and bananas. Granting himself supervision contracts, corner deals and taxation exemptions, he levered his approach into winning industries opposite a whole economy – logging and paper, meat, oil, insurance, shipping and airlines, drink and cigarettes, textiles, hotels and casinos, newspapers, radio and TV. His was an early and quite covetous chronicle of privatisation.

Crucially, he saw his crime by a lawyer’s eyes. Of march people would observe that a Marcoses were unexpected unequivocally rich – they could live with that. What mattered was to safeguard that there was no evidence. Repeatedly, he set adult his companies so that presumably they belonged to other people. Marcos deployed dozens of cronies: relatives, golf partners, domestic allies, anybody who common his greed. The associate would pointer a assistance transferring tenure of many of a business – customarily 60% – though would leave a vacant space for a name. Marcos would reason a assistance and leave a space blank. There was no “evidence” that he owned a 60%.

Marcos stole, afterwards stole more. The Japanese paid reparations for a second universe war; he skimmed it and put a distinction into his Swiss accounts. He stole general assist money, bullion from a Central Bank, loans from general banks and troops assist from a US. He intended that some-more than a million bankrupt coconut farmers contingency compensate a levy, presumably to urge a industry, amounting to $216m. He had already released decrees to present many of a coconut trade to one of his possess companies; now he stole good chunks of a levy fund, all a while holding kickbacks on supervision contracts.

All this burglary combined a logistical problem: how to hoop a tidal upsurge of money. The PCGG repository shows how Marcos set adult his possess banking system, regulating cronies to buy private banks and others to control a state banks. These were useful for dark some-more money, in loans that would never be repaid, and for accessing unfamiliar banking – nonetheless eventually he set adult his possess dilettante bank to trade banking on a black market.

Above all, a banks acted like a network of dykes receiving his sea of income. Bank staff would make unchanging – infrequently weekly – trips to a palace, to collect adult cheques and bundles of cash, that were afterwards deposited in dozens of accounts. The millions were afterwards channelled into Marcos’s expanding fountainhead of offshore accounts (he had 69 in Switzerland alone). Then all he and Imelda had to do was spin on a taps anywhere in a universe and income would come pouring out; income that had been cleared purify of a tie to crime.

For all a craziness, a gorging on consumer products that followed now seems a healthy progression. There were mixed houses for a extended family, a $5.5m yacht, private planes, helicopters and dozens of Mercedes-Benzes. When their youngest daughter was married in Jun 1983, they built a new runway and hotel, renovated a 200-year-old church, demolished circuitously houses and rebuilt them in normal style, alien carriages from Austria and horses from Morocco.

The group and women who work during a PCGG are driven by an anger. Each day they learn some-more fact of this crime, while a victims nap on a pavements and in a slums around them. They are good wakeful of what a income could do for a bankrupt people of a Philippines: if Marcos stole $10bn, this would have paid for a whole supervision bill for his final year in energy 3 times over. And so they wish not customarily to collect a stolen money, though to revive it. It is not easy. The Marcoses, with their income and their connections, have always been in a lead.


Consider a tale of a vacant paintings. When a PCGG searched a president’s residence after he fled, they found that a walls of a ballroom displayed 23 dark rags where once there had been masterpieces. The Marcoses had a city residence on East 66th Street in New York, where Imelda hold many parties. Neighbours told investigators that they had seen dual 18-wheel trailers lift adult a few days after a integrate went into exile: they had been installed adult with antiques and paintings, and driven away. By a time a residence was searched a few weeks later, there were customarily coronet plaques braggadocio of treasures that had once assigned a walls: a Madonna And Child by Michelangelo, a Marquesa de Santa Cruz by Goya, a integrate of Monets, dual Braques, a Pissarro, a Manet.

The immeasurable repository of papers in Manila

The immeasurable PCGG repository of papers in Manila. Photograph: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA/Corbis

Paperwork retrieved from their several homes suggested that a Marcoses had bought during slightest 304 profitable paintings. Almost all were now missing. The Philippine investigators were left with a few dozen defective works deserted in some of a Philippine homes, and one Henri Fantin-Latour found wrapped in a sweeping underneath a maid’s bed in one of their New York apartments, apparently an try to lift from a thief. They got a decider to sequence galleries and auction houses not to sell anything that competence have come from a Marcoses. There was not many else they could do.

During their initial year, a PCGG perceived a small assistance from several former Marcos staff and allies. A financial aide, Rolando Gapud, gave them sum of 5 Swiss bank accounts. By Marcos standards, they did not enclose unequivocally many (only $356m) and a banks refused to palm it over. All a PCGG could do was convince a Swiss probity to solidify a accounts. Gapud and others began to divulge a scale of Marcos’s tenure of a Philippine economy. In Manila, a supervision set adult an “anti-graft” court; by a finish of 1986, a PCGG was opening cases opposite Marcos and his network.

One of those who came brazen was Oscar Cariño, former manager of a New York bend of a Philippine National Bank. In a sworn statement, he claimed he had combined accounts for dual fictitious companies to disguise a Marcos millions. It emerged that a paintings had altered hands with a assistance of some absolute connections. The probity listened that some partial had been played by Adnan Khashoggi, a scandalous Saudi arms dealer. An Australian TV programme claimed that dozens of Marcos paintings had been flown out of a US on a private plane; 38 others had been shipped from Hawaii. Acting on a ask from a PCGG, French military raided dual of Khashoggi’s apartments and found paperwork confirming that many of a masterpieces were now in his hands.

Khashoggi argued that he had done bona fide purchases from a couple, of a paintings and of 4 Manhattan skyscrapers. But a US authorities claimed that a papers he constructed to support this had been backdated, and rigourously indicted him of interference a march of justice.

Khashoggi was arrested in Switzerland and extradited to New York, where he assimilated Marcos, Imelda and a network of others indicted underneath anti-racketeering law. But Ferdinand Marcos died in Sep 1989, before a box came to trial; he was 72 and had been in a sanatorium in Honolulu for months. Without Marcos, some justification became inadmissible. There were reports that a White House was disposition on a prosecutors to go soft, that there was too many intensity annoyance for a final 5 US presidents. Imelda told a probity she was “a bad widow who knew zero about her husband’s activities”. Khashoggi protested his ignorance and was transparent of any offence. The twin of a hearing runs to thousands of pages. It finished in Jul 1990, with all a defendants announced not guilty on all counts.

The US authorities concluded to take no serve authorised movement if Khashoggi surrendered a paintings and a skyscrapers. But when a skyscrapers were finally sold, it incited out they had been mortgaged to a knob by a Marcoses. The city demanded delinquent skill taxes. Though a buildings’ sum sale cost was $50m, a Philippine people perceived customarily $5.7m. Most of a dozens of paintings Khashoggi is believed to have rubbed were no longer in his possession. The PCGG retrieved usually 26.

For a investigators, this was a frustrating journey. Aquino’s government, that had launched a elect in a feverishness of revolution, fast stepped on a brake. Her supporters contend there was no option: Marcos and his cronies owned so many of a economy that to seize their resources would pile-up a banks. Her critics, meanwhile, disagree that her supervision was always compromised: a Aquinos were one of a wealthiest families in a country; a aged gentlefolk was behind in power. Whatever a motive, a PCGG was systematic to seize nothing, though instead to work by a courts. Over a following few years, it became transparent that this had handed a beginning to a Marcoses, who had a income to sinecure a unequivocally best lawyers. Soon, dozens of cases were sidetracked by unconstrained technical argument.

Just as Marcos’s resources was too good to seize, so his domestic change was too vast to beat. Two weeks after a revolution, a source in New York had shown a PCGG a news divulgence that, even before he was deposed, his allies in US comprehension were wakeful that he had stolen adult to $10bn. But a CIA refused to divulge what they knew. The Japanese supervision done it transparent to Aquino that they were not going to palm over information, and assist packages could be in danger if a PCGG pushed too hard. In a UK, Margaret Thatcher’s supervision pronounced it was “not a business”.

Ronald Reagan dances with Imelda Marcos, while President Marcos dances with Nancy Reagan, during a state revisit to Manila in 1969.

Ronald Reagan dances with Imelda Marcos, while President Marcos dances with Nancy, during a state revisit to Manila in 1969. Photograph: Getty Images

The problem for these governments was that they had incited a blind eye while their companies had waded into a plod alongside Marcos – holding his income though seeking where it came from. In some cases, Marcos, in turn, had paid bribes to comparison politicians and done bootleg contributions to choosing campaigns, including those of US presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. (When this flush in 1986, they pronounced they had not famous where a income came from.)

A PCGG maestro of scarcely 30 years has a special disappointment with a US. He says they have never handed over all a paperwork seized from Marcos when he arrived in Hawaii, and he flicks by a copies he has: “See? Some pages that are blank, some register pages that are blank. We cruise they have redacted exchange involving US organisations. They were partners in theft.” And he pauses to cruise how a US would conflict if some other republic seized justification of their many inclusive rapist and handed it over in redacted form.


By a autumn of 1991, Imelda Marcos was feeling amply protected to go behind to a Philippines with her 3 adult children. In New York, a PCGG picked adult rumours that some of a paintings were still there and being sole by a veteran dealer. They hired a organisation of private investigators, IGI, to watch a dealer, and determined that he had some of a Marcos collection, including Goya’s mural of a Marquesa de Santa Cruz.

Early in Jun 1992, a investigators detected a play had been warned that they were on to him. The subsequent morning, they watched as 5 group and women “of Filipino appearance” incited adult outward a dealer’s unit in dual vans, installed adult boxes and vast blue suitcases, and gathering out to JFK airport, where all 5 checked in as first-class passengers along with their surprising cargo. With no authorised energy to intervene, a investigators could customarily watch as they flew off to Manila.

The settlement of parole was set. In Seattle in Dec 1989, a jury found that a Marcoses were concerned in a tract to murder dual Filipino kinship activists who had been shot there in 1981. The jury systematic them to compensate $15.1m remuneration to a victims’ families. The income has not been paid. In Hawaii in 1995, a probity found a regime had abused a tellurian rights of thousands who’d been tortured and killed, and systematic that Ferdinand’s estate compensate scarcely $2bn compensation. Less than 1% of that has been paid. Having returned to Manila, in Sep 1993 Imelda was convicted of privately defrauding a state in a land understanding while Marcos was still in power. She was condemned to 18 years in jail though bailed while she lodged an appeal. Five years after a autarchic probity threw out her self-assurance on technical grounds.

Soon, a PCGG was using into some-more problems, as Marcos allies found their approach behind into energy and argued that a disaster to collect some-more stolen income valid a elect was purposeless and should be closed. Worse, a PCGG was sinister by a crime it was perplexing to expose. Some officials were held exploiting dull Marcos properties and pocketing “excessive” expenses. Twice a enervated PCGG done concede agreements with a Marcos family that were so generous, a Philippine courts blocked them.

By a late 1990s, Imelda had been inaugurated to a Philippine House of Representatives and was emboldened to give provocative interviews in that she announced “there is some-more income a supervision is not nonetheless wakeful of” and “we possess many all in a Philippines”. Increasingly secure, her certainty got a improved of her. In 2007, she gave some-more interviews and acted for photographs that clearly showed 8 of a vacant paintings radiant on her walls, including Goya’s portrait. Another aged master hung on a wall of her bureau in a House of Representatives.

The PCGG went to probity for an sequence to redeem them. But with a Marcoses hostile each move, a box took 6 years. When they finally raided Imelda’s bureau and 4 of her homes in Oct 2014, they again found customarily dark rags on a walls where a 8 paintings had once hung and “Imelda great into her handkerchief”.

Imelda Marcos’s solid and pearl tiara

Imelda’s solid and pearl tiara. Photograph: Joel Nito/AFP/Getty Images

Even so, a PCGG has dragged some victories out of a swamp. In 2004, they finally retrieved a income from a 5 Swiss accounts. At an even slower pace, they seized a resources of half a dozen associate companies and recovered many of a coconut levy. They auctioned paintings, jewellery, china and dozens of houses.

In total, a PCGG has succeeded in retrieving $3.7bn. That amounts to reduction than half a tip guess for what was taken by Marcos alone. In annoy of their efforts, they have watched his associates retire to a life of self-indulgence with many of their fortunes intact. They have dozens of cases still bogged down in a courts, including 22 that started in 1987 or earlier.

The conduct of a PCGG, Richard Amurao, is a conspicuously decent lawyer, aged 41, who spent 5 years as a commissioner before apropos authority final year. He points out how a singular square of Imelda’s trinket could have paid for 2,000 immature Filipinos to go by college. He is not giving up, nonetheless reflects that it has been exhausting, and tough to see how they can win. “It is like a trade jams in Manila. You start to accept that it usually is this way.”

Deep in a vaults of a Central Bank, he says, there is a vast collection of Imelda’s jewellery, due to be auctioned subsequent month. It includes many of what was seized 30 years ago by US customs, another accumulate found in a palace, and a third intercepted during Manila airfield as a crony of Imelda’s attempted to fly out of a country. Last year, Christie’s valued a collection; they identified treasures that had formerly been missed, including a tiara with 25 pearls in a solid support seized from a Russian tsar’s family in a 1918 revolution. It is estimated to be value some-more than $4m. Amurao’s workers have invented their possess word to report anybody who is generously greedy: “Imeldific”.

What will occur if Bongbong Marcos is inaugurated vice-president? Will he concede his mom entrance to a vaults to collect a trinket she insists is hers? Will he kill a PCGG entirely? Bongbong, 58, started his domestic career before his family was exiled, apropos vice-governor of Ilocos Norte range in 1981, aged 23. Six years after exile, he returned to spin a congressman. He recently denied any impasse in a authorised moves that have blocked so many of a PCGG’s work. In February, Amurao released a tough response, observant his explain was “belied by probity annals that uncover his involvement”. He listed cases in that Bongbong and his mom are still laying explain to what a PCGG says is ill-gotten wealth. Imelda is now 86, and actively campaigning for her son.

“The work is not finished,” Amurao says. “There is no supervision of reduction on seeking justice. But a flitting of time creates it some-more and some-more formidable to find new leads. Time is an fan for those who wish us to forget. And if Bongbong wins, we don’t unequivocally see how we can do a work – not with a son of a former trainer customarily a heartbeat divided from a presidency.”