TWO former officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) accused of accepting P50 million bribe from Macau-based online gaming tycoon Jack Lam had no authority to investigate cases involving violation of immigration laws or human trafficking, the Senate learned on Tuesday.
The Senate blue ribbon committee resumed yesterday its investigation into the alleged bribery scandal involving former Immigration associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, BI intelligence chief Charles Calima and retired police official Wally Sombero Jr., a representative of Lam.
Sen. Francis Escudero asked Argosino and Robles if their job included investigating individuals suspected of violating immigration laws or those involved in human trafficking.
Argosino claimed that his meeting with Sombero at the City of Dreams on November 26, 2016 was part of his investigation into the possible involvement of Lam in human trafficking following the arrest of 1,316 undocumented Chinese nationals. During the meeting, the officials were handed P48 million by Sombero in exchange for the release of illegal Chinese workers.
Argosino told senators during a previous hearing that they were given P50 million but Sombero took the P2 million as “commission.”
The former BI official said they accepted the money because they wanted to use it as evidence against Lam.
But when asked by Escudero if he has authority to investigate, Argosino was not able to give a direct answer.
“Is it stated in your job description that you can investigate?” Escudero asked, to which Argosino replied: “I believed I have the job under human trafficking law.”
When asked the same question, Robles said he was just assisting Argosino.
“We are not authorized (to investigate). There is no authority giving us that kind of power,” Robles added.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd agreed that the two did not have the authority to investigate.
In his sworn affidavit, Robles said that he accompanied Argosino to the City of Dreams because the latter asked him to.
He maintained that Argosino never demanded money from Sombero, that is why he was surprised when the latter handed them bags containing money.
The money, he added, was used as evidence in the filing of charges against Lam, Sombero, Calima, Norman Ng and Alexander Yu before the Parañaque Prosecutors office on December 13, 2016.
Argosino broke down during the hearing as he insisted that what happened to them was a case of corruption of public officials.
He also pleaded to the senators to hear their side since the CCTV footage obtained from the hotel showed what happened in that meeting.
“Your honor, this is corruption of public officials. Jack Lam was never charged, even during the previous administration. We returned whatever evidence we obtained,” Argosino said.
Robles claimed that they were framed up by Calima because he connived with Sombero.
He said that Calima, after learning about the bribe, contacted Argosino and asked for P18 million in exchange for his help.
Sombero clears Aguirre
Meanwhile, Aguirre informed senators during the hearing the Sombero has cleared him of any involvement in the scandal.
The Justice secretary said Sombero sent him a text message yesterday.
“Sir, for the record, I’m watching the hearing. …I’m clearing you of any knowledge on this extortion scandal,” Sombero said.
Sombero was a no-show at the Senate because claimed to be undergoing medical treatment in Singapore.
Blue Ribbon chairman Sen. Richard Gordon said that it is possible that Argosino acted on his own and Robles was a willing accomplice.
He said that Argosino is the most guilty because it was him who negotiated with Sombero.
“But we need to get the entire picture from Sombero,” he added.
As for Calima, Gordon said the former BI intelligence officer wanted a share of the money.