Philippine Officials Named in FBI Spy Plot

Federal prosecutors identified former Philippine President Joseph Estrada and two other Philippine officials as alleged participants in a spy plot involving a former FBI analyst.

According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Newark, Estrada, Sen. Panfilio Lacson and former Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella worked with Leandro Aragoncillo, the former analyst suspected of passing secret intelligence to officials in the Philippines.

Prosecutors said the men might have wanted the information to try to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

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 the three officials emerged Monday when the 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.

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.

Estrada, who was toppled amid massive street protests in 2001, has acknowledged receiving at least six reports from Aragoncillo but has said the information amounted to little more than news summaries and should not be considered espionage.

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.