ZURICH (Switzerland) - In a dramatic new twist to the long-running legal battle over Ferdinand Marcos' fortune, a Swiss court has recognized a new claim to the Marcos millions lying in Swiss bank accounts.

A Swiss court has decided that a Golden Buddha statue filled with diamonds -- all Japanese war booty -- was most likely illegally seized by Marcos from a poor Filipino locksmith who uncovered it in 1971.

The Zurich Legal Office will within days send Marcos' widow Imelda an order to pay $460 million to compensate the locksmith's family who, under Philippine law, are owned half the value of any find, the family's lawyer, Andres Baumgartner, told the Associated Press on Sunday.

If Ms Marcos does not pay, the money can be seized from the Swiss accounts to pay the locksmith's family.

However, the fortune is also claimed by Ms Marcos, the Philippine government and victims of human rights violations a Hawaii court said Marcos' regime committed.

After 10 years of legal proceedings over the Marcos millions, the new judgement, made Feb. 23 by the Zurich district court, has opened an even stranger chapter.

Many people believe that shortly before World War II ended in 1945, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita hid booty in the Philippines amassed in the course of the war in Southeast Asia.

The booty is said to have consisted of a 90-cm-high Golden Buddha filled with diamonds as well as some 1,000 tons of gold bars. It has never been found.

A poor locksmith, Rogelio Roxas, allegedly found the treasure more than 25 years later buried in a tunnel near a hospital. Witnesses say Marcos seized the treasure for himself.

Roxas was arrested, tortured and imprisoned. After his release, the tunnel was empty.

Roxas has since died, but he founded a group in the United States called The Golden Buddha Corp. which has been working in the name of Roxas' successors to win compensation.

In May, 1991, Baumgartner, acting for the group, brought a case before the Zurich district court demanding the confiscation of Marcos' millions as payment for the gold.

After appeals, the Zurich Supreme Court in 1992 ordered that 47 million francs ($40.5 million) be deducted from the Marcos estate frozen in Swiss accounts.

The Golden Buddha Corp. has since uncovered further evidence, and last month won its demand a further 533.8 million francs ($460 million). The Zurich Legal Office is handling the order for Ms Marcos to make payment.

Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986, when he was overthrown by a popular insurrection and fled to Hawaii. He died three years later.

A US district court in Honolulu has held that Marcos violation human rights and awarded $1.9 billion to be shared among 10,000 of his victims.
Golden Buddha finder wins US$460-M claim to FM deposits
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