Philippine top judge Renato Corona faces sack for corruption

Philippine senators vote to oust top judge Renato Corona

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Senators in the Philippines have found the country's top judge guilty of failing to declare his wealth, paving the way for his removal from office.

A majority of senators found Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona breached the constitution by not declaring assets worth $2.4m (£1.53m) in foreign currency accounts.

His trial is central to anti-corruption efforts by President Benigno Aquino.

Corona had argued the offence was not serious enough to warrant impeachment.

The four-month trial, which was broadcast live on television, has gripped a country notorious for corruption at all levels of government.

Correspondents say the most likely outcome of the conviction is that Corona will be removed from office - although the Senate impeachment court closed its session without announcing a sentence.

'Morally unfit'

Corona is the first chief justice to be impeached and convicted in the Philippines.

Twenty out of 23 senators found him guilty of failing to declare his assets - more than two-thirds were required to convict the judge.

"He has lost his moral fitness to serve the people; he has betrayed the public trust," said Senator Franklin Drilon, a member of President Aquino's party, as he voted to convict the chief justice.

Mr Aquino's spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, told AFP news agency: "In accordance with the 1987 constitution, the judgment of conviction by the Senate impeachment court results [in Corona's] removal and disqualification from public office."

The chief justice said "ugly politics prevailed" and insisted he was innocent, saying "my conscience is clear".

But he said he accepted the verdict and suggested he was ready to accept his fate "if this is for the public good".

"I have always been ready to offer my own life for our people," he said in a statement.

His lawyers said they had yet to consult him on whether to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, Reuters news agency reports.

'Vendetta'

The chief justice, whose trial in the Senate impeachment court began on 16 January, was accused of violating the constitution and betraying public trust.

A majority of senators concluded that he had failed to declare all but a small percentage of his assets, rejecting his claims that he had amassed his millions while dabbling in foreign exchange as a student.

In his testimony last week, Corona admitted that he had not declared $2.4m in assets, but argued that this was protected by a law on secrecy of foreign currencies.

As well as failing to declare assets, he was charged on two other counts - unlawfully trying to protect former President Gloria Arroyo who appointed him, and failing to meet the standards expected of a judge.

The senators did not vote on the second and third charges after convicting him on the first.

The chief justice has maintained that he was the victim of a political vendetta - and at one point challenged all members of congress to declare their own assets.

Mrs Arroyo appointed Corona - who was her former chief of staff - shortly before she finished her term in office.

The appointment was questioned by Mr Aquino, who has accused the judge of trying to block efforts to investigate corruption allegations against Mrs Arroyo. She remains in detention in Manila awaiting trial.

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