TWO top officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) are in hot water for allegedly extorting P50 million from Chinese businessman Jack Lam, the biggest online gaming operator in the country, prompting them to take a 30-day leave of absence to give way to an investigation.
The amount was supposedly in exchange for the release of 600 out of a total of 1,316 undocumented Chinese who were rounded up by combined immigration and Special Action Force (SAF) elements in Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga for working without permit in the Lam-operated online casino.
Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente on Monday ordered Associate Commissioners Al C. Argosino and Michael B. Robles, along with Acting BI intelligence chief Charles T. Calima, to submit their written explanation within 24 hours on the circumstances surrounding the alleged extortion.
“This initiative is separate from the NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] [probe]ordered by Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd. We will support this and any other parallel investigation on the matter,” Morente said in a memorandum.
“The Bureau of Immigration has been consistent in adhering to the guidance of President Rodrigo Duterte to upgrade the level of service to all our clients and weed out corruption in the bureaucracy. We have taken pains to address all irregularities with impartiality and will continue to take decisive action as needed,” the BI chief added.
Argosino and Robles are President Duterte’s fraternity brothers in Lex Taleonis.
The embattled officials filed a 30-day leave of absence effective December 12 to give a freehand to the ongoing investigation against them.
“In the interest of justice and in our adherence to the Rule of Law and our belief in the truth, we are taking a
leave of absence from our duties as Deputy Commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration for thirty days effective today, December 12, 2016,” Argosino and Robles said in an official statement.
Even as they neither confirmed nor denied the allegations leveled against them, the two maintained that “we fully and wholeheartedly support President Duterte’s war against corruption in government.”
The BI spokesman, lawyer Ma. Antonette Mangrobang, has confirmed that 600 of the Chinese have already been released from their temporary detention at the Fontana Convention Center.
“They were released after their petitions for bail were approved by the BI Board of Commissioners,” Mangrobang told The Manila Times.
The BI Board of Commissioners is composed of Morente, Agrosino and Robles.
According to Mangrobang, there are still more than 700 left in detention, with some of them also having pending petitions for bail.
Earlier, the Justice secretary disclosed that Lam’s illegal gambling operation in Clark is being protected by a well-entrenched syndicate, which was able to effect the escape of more than 1,000 other undocumented Chinese during the raid in Fontana.
Aguirre said Lam does not have a permit to operate from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which means that he is not paying a single cent to the government.
The Justice secretary has disclosed that Lam, through an emissary, retired Police General Wally Sombero, tried to bribe him and Chairman Andrea Domingo of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.
Earlier, a lawyer for Lam has denied Sombero’s role as an emissary nor has the authority to negotiate in behalf of the Chinese businessman.
But journalist Ramon Tulfo, in his column last Friday, said it was Sombrero who divulged to him the alleged P50 million payoff, which was paid in two tranches of P20 million and P30 million, at the City of Dreams Hotel and Casino in Pasay City (Metro Manila).
The payoff was reportedly captured on CCTV and the whole conversation between the two associate commissioners and Sombero was recorded.
The whole transaction, according to Tulfo, was also witnessed by Calima, a retired police general like Sombero.