Ousted Philippine President Joseph Estrada on Wednesday denied allegations by U.S. federal prosecutors that he conspired with a former FBI analyst to steal classified information that could be used to oust the current Philippine leader.
Federal prosecutors identified Estrada, opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson and former House of Representatives Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella as alleged participants in a spy plot involving former FBI analyst Leandro Aragoncillo.
According to documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, Estrada and the two Philippine lawmakers might have sought information from Aragoncillo to try to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Estrada, ousted in a 2001 "people power" revolt on charges of corruption, acknowledged receiving information from Aragoncillo, but he said it was passed on to him voluntarily and amounted to nothing more than what was already reported by Manila newspapers.
He stressed he would never get involved in a plot to oust Arroyo, a former vice president who succeeded him in 2001.
"I don't have that intention, whatsoever," Estrada told The Associated Press by telephone.
He said he had shown information passed on by Aragoncillo to Philippine authorities, apparently to prove they were worthless.
"I don't think they were classified. There was nothing new but U.S. Embassy reports to Washington about our economy, peace and order, corruption, human rights violations," Estrada said. "I read them all in our newspapers every day."
Estrada said he has not been notified of any formal charges by U.S. authorities and declined to comment further.
Lacson also denied the allegation, according to local news reports. Fuentebella could not be immediately reached for comment.
Former Marine worked for Gore, Cheney
Aragoncillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Philippines, is a former U.S. Marine who worked in the offices of Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dick Cheney. While working for the FBI at Fort Monmouth, he was accused of downloading more than 100 sensitive intelligence documents. Court documents indicate he is negotiating a plea agreement with the U.S. government.
The names of Estrada and the two Philippine officials emerged Monday when the U.S. attorney for Michael Ray Aquino, the only person indicted thus far, sought a judge's permission to take depositions from the three in the Philippines.
U.S. prosecutors depict Aquino, a former high-ranking police official, as a contact between Aragoncillo and opposition politicians. He is charged with conspiracy to pass classified information and acting as an unregistered foreign agent.
His attorney, Mark Berman, maintains that Aquino may have passed information but did not know it was classified.
If the judge permits the taking of depositions in the Philippines, they would be videotaped and could be played for a jury in the United States. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karl Buch opposed the request.