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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Orders Further Accounting on Funds

(CN) - The 9th Circuit called for a more detailed accounting of the more than $34 million in a Merrill Lynch account opened by the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A federal judge ruled that victims of human-rights abuses are entitled to the funds, but the U.S. Supreme Court said Philippine courts should decide who gets the money.

The three-judge appellate panel ordered a new accounting by another federal judge.

The fund stems from a $2 million deposit Marcos made with Merrill Lynch in 1972. The money sat in the account for about 30 years, growing to $33.8 million in cash and securities by 2000.

After Marcos' death in 1989, alleged victims of human-rights abuses began filing claims against the late ruler's estate. Merrill Lynch asked the court to decide who should get the money, and the funds were transferred into a court registry, while the claimants - including the Manila government, the Philippine National Bank and the alleged abuse victims - vied for the assets in federal courts.

In 2004, the district court ruled that the thousands of class-action plaintiffs were entitled to the money, and the funds were transferred into a settlement account.

But disbursement was stalled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that Philippine courts should determine the rightful owners. Justice Kennedy ordered Real to return the money to a Merrill Lynch account in New York.

Some of the parties called for an accounting, prompting Judge Real to declare in 2008 that the "current balance for the Merrill Lynch account ... is $34,689,631.27."

But the judge's half-page accounting of the funds' management over the past eight years included "cryptic notations" that didn't make sense to Chief Judge Kozinski and Judges Nelson and Wardlaw of the 9th Circuit panel.

"This curious statement plainly fails to account for all transactions involving the assets during the eight years they were held in the clerk of court's custody," the panel wrote.

"It doesn't give the reader even a basic understanding of the path by which $33.8 million worth of assets deposited in September of 2000 came to be worth $34.7 million today."

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