MANILA, Philippines -- His presidential immunity stripped, Joseph Estrada was indicted Wednesday on charges alleging he amassed $82 million from kickbacks and payoffs in 2 1/2 years in office.
Among the charges leveled by prosecutor Aniano Desierto were plunder -- defined as illegally accumulating more than $1 million while in office. Plunder is a capital crime, but it is considered doubtful Estrada would get the death penalty.
The Philippines' anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan, must now decide whether the charges are solid enough to issue an arrest warrant for the once-hugely popular action film star. No decision was expected in the next few days.
Immigration Commissioner Andrea Domingo said she ordered round-the-clock surveillance at airports nationwide to ensure Estrada doesn't try to flee.
But Estrada said he has no plans to leave the country. "I would rather be jailed than to leave our people," Estrada said.
The charges follow a unanimous Supreme Court vote on Tuesday that reaffirmed the legitimacy of his successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and stripped Estrada of presidential immunity. The ruling dashed Estrada's final hope to retake the presidency through legal means.
Estrada said Wednesday that the charges are "fabricated" and he will "exhaust all legal remedies."
Estrada was forced to leave the presidential palace on Jan. 20 as tens of thousands of protesters, backed by top police, military and church officials, gathered outside to call for his resignation after months of snowballing corruption allegations. Arroyo, who was his separately elected vice president, was sworn in the same day.
But Estrada never signed a resignation letter and later asked the Supreme Court to declare Arroyo only "acting president." The Supreme Court ruled he effectively resigned when he left the palace.
Desierto also charged Estrada with violation of the anti-graft law, misuse of public funds, perjury, illegal use of an alias, illegal gambling and violation of the law on ethical standards.
Desierto said the $82 million allegedly "plundered" by Estrada include more than $60 million in a secret bank account under an alias, $10.9 million in payoffs from illegal gambling, $2.6 million in kickbacks from a tobacco excise tax and $3.78 million in commissions from a stock sale using state pension funds.
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