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Philippine senate convicts top judge

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Justice Corona denounced the case against him, saying it was not backed by evidencePhilippine senators have voted overwhelmingly to convict the country's top judge for failing to declare $2.4m in bank accounts after a trial that lasted five months.

The politically charged trial has reinvigorated President Benigno Aquino III's campaign to clean up government.

The senators were expected to deliberate on the penalty immediately after the verdict.

Case denounced

Corona, the first Philippine supreme court chief justice to stand an impeachment trial, had been accused of hiding millions of dollars in assets, lack of integrity and amassing a fortune way above the limits of his salary.

The 63-year-old denied concealing dozens of properties and millions in assets when he took the witness stand last week.

Corona also denounced the case which Benigno Aquino, the current president, sees as key to rooting out corruption.

"Why is this administration so mad at me?" he said in a statement last week. "This case was filed without evidence. They broke all laws to fish evidence against me."

Corona said $2.4m that he had not declared was protected by a law allowing absolute secrecy for foreign currencies, and the other money in Philippine peso accounts belonged to his relatives.

Franklin Drilon, a member of Aquino's party, said as he voted to convict Corona: "He has lost his moral fitness to serve the people. He has betrayed the public trust. He cannot be the chief justice a minute longer."

The impeachment trial has been closely watched, as it involves former president Gloria Arroyo whom Aquino accuses of illegally appointing Corona just before she stepped down allegedly to protect her from prosecution.

Arroyo is now in detention while separately being tried for vote-rigging.

Pervasive levels

The current president was elected in 2010 on a platform to end corruption, which he claimed reached pervasive levels during his predecessor Arroyo's nearly 10-year rule.
 
Aquino was confident Corona would be ousted, Abigail Valte, his spokeswoman, said on Monday, when prosecutors from the House of Representatives and Corona's lawyers made their closing arguments after a four-month trial.

"Based on the evidence and the admissions that have been given, it is a strong case," Valte said.

His lawyers said he had not committed any crime that would be grounds for impeachment, such as treason, bribery, or corruption.

The lawyers earlier said he reserved the right to bring the case to the supreme court if found guilty. Legal observers said if he was ordered to step down but refused pending an appeal, it could lead to a constitutional crisis.


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