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Philippines tells Arroyo plunder case bars travel

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August 9, 2011 09:08 AM EST | AP

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government on Tuesday barred former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from traveling abroad because of pending corruption cases against her.

Arroyo, who is now a member of Congress, is facing plunder charges alleging she illegally used hundreds of millions of pesos (tens of millions of dollars) in government funds partly to fund her election campaign. She has denied the charges.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ordered Arroyo included on the immigration "watch list" for 60 days unless it is extended.

Persons on the list are not allowed to leave the country unless they obtain "clearance" from the government.

Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was place on the list last week after a businessman told a Senate investigation that he owned helicopters that had been sold as brand new to the police. He has denied ownership of the choppers.

Government prosecutors are reviewing the evidence against Arroyo before deciding whether they have enough for a plunder indictment. There is no time frame on a decision.

She is facing separate criminal complaints alleging she did not remit 72 million pesos ($1.7 million) in taxes on the sale of a government lot and the diversion of more than 550 million pesos ($13 million) in an overseas workers' fund and 728 million pesos ($17 million) in state fertilizer funds to boost her 2004 election campaign.

Plunder carries a maximum punishment of 40 years imprisonment.

Arroyo had neck surgery last week and returned to the hospital Tuesday before undergoing another surgery because an implant on her spine dislodged, her doctors said.

Her spokesman, lawyer Raul Lambino, said the inclusion of the former leader on the watch list is unconstitutional and claimed it was part of a plan by the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to put the Arroyo couple "in a shameful situation and in a bad light for public consumption."

"It is part of this Aquino adminstration's overall production carnival to keep the trial and conviction by publicity against the Arroyos," he said in a statement.

It is also meant to "cover the incompetence and dismal performance" of the year-old Aquino government and to "divert public attention" from the "more massive anomalies" by Aquino's close associates, Lambino said without elaborating.

A lawyer for Arroyo's husband has said they will question before the Supreme Court his inclusion in the immigration watch list.

Aquino has vowed to prosecute officials of the Arroyo government involved in corruption.