THE Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Thursday wrapped up its investigation into the P50-million bribery-extortion scandal involving officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam, clearing Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd of any liability.
After five hearings, the panel headed by Sen. Richard Gordon, concluded that the November 27, 2016 meeting between sacked BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and former police officer Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero at the City of Dreams casino resort in Parañaque City was a case of extortion, not bribery.
Gordon said the committee did not find evidence that would indicate Aguirre was involved in the extortion incident, which was allegedly carried out by Argosino and Robles.
Argosino and Robles, in previous hearings, claimed they were bribed by Lam, through Sombero, in exchange for the immediate release of more than 1,300 illegal Chinese workers at Lam’s Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark Field, Pampanga.
The Chinese workers were arrested in a raid ordered by the Justice secretary on November 24, 2016.
Two days after the raid, Lam, together with Sombero and two interpreters, had a chance meeting with Aguirre inside the Shangri-La hotel at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig to discuss the cases of the Chinese workers.
It was also during that meeting when Sombero told Aguirre that Lam needed a “godfather” or sponsor for his gambling operation, but the Justice secretary ignored the offer.
Unknown to Aguirre, Argosino had a discussion with Sombero after the meeting and even set another encounter later that day to talk about the release of the arrested Chinese workers.
Argosino brought Robles with him and met Sombero in a restaurant at City of Dreams around 11 p.m. of November 26.
The former immigration officials claimed their meeting with Sombero was part of their investigation to pin down Lam for human trafficking.
Argosino and Robles stayed at the City of Dreams for eight hours and footage from close circuit television cameras showed the two officials exiting the casino resort with Sombero and two other individuals, carrying paper bags containing money.
“The (Justice) Secretary even ordered the raid. If he really intends to extort money, he only needs to stay put and wait for them to approach him. He doesn’t need to order a raid and even give the two commissioners a cut,” Gordon pointed out.
The Blue Ribbon chairman also saw nothing wrong with Aguirre agreeing to meet Lam since the latter is an investor and had the right to talk to concerned government officials concerning the situation of his workers.
“It’s a public place, they saw each other, they did not deny it. I don’t see any problem with that. It happens to me all the time,” Gordon said in defending the Justice secretary.
The senator however could not say the same for Argosino and Robles, who, according to him, could be charged for extortion.
Gordon said the claims of the two ex-immigration officials that what happened was a bribery incident and that they accepted the money to get evidence against Lam was difficult to believe.
“If that is their true intention they should have gone straight to Aguirre and filed a case for bribery after they received the P50 million from Sombero,” Gordon pointed out.
The committee has yet to determine the liabilities of other personalities like Sombero, former immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima and BI Commissioner Jaime Morente, Gordon said.
Calima was said to have received P18 million from Argosino after learning about their meeting with Sombero at the City of Dreams and did not immediately file any case against the Argosino and Robles.