Deposed President Joseph Estrada decried his graft conviction Wednesday, calling it a politically motivated sham by "a kangaroo court."
The verdict to end the six-year trial was televised live but was nearly an anticlimax. Government fears that a conviction would spark Estrada's poor supporters to protest violently failed to materialize.
It was the latest step in the plunge from the pinnacle of power for Estrada, a popular action film star who scored the Philippines' biggest-ever election victory in 1998 and vowed during his inaugural address that his loved ones wouldn't benefit even one cent from his post. He even inaugurated the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court that convicted him.
"This is the only forum where I could tell the Filipino people my innocence," a disappointed Estrada, still wearing a wristband with the presidential seal, told reporters. "That's why I took a gamble. I thought the rule of law will prevail over here. This is really a kangaroo court. This is a political decision."
Estrada, ousted in January 2001 by the country's second "people power" revolt, was convicted of plunder and acquitted of perjury for allegedly falsely declaring his assets. He is expected to challenge the verdict.
With credit for time served in detention, it was unclear when he might be eligible for parole, or whether he will spend time in prison, be allowed to continue living under house arrest in his own villa or even be granted a pardon.
Estrada also was ordered to forfeit a mansion and more than 731 million pesos (US$15.5 million; EUR11 million), plus interest, that were deposited into two bank accounts.
"This is the last chance for the state to show that we can do it, that we can charge, prosecute and convict a public official regardless of his stature," special prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said. "It shows that our judicial system really works."
Riot police and troops kept hundreds of Estrada backers well away from the Sandiganbayan. Security also was tight around the presidential palace as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo worried about a repeat of violent protests that followed Estrada's arrest in April 2001.
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