MANILA, Philippines—The multibillion-peso pyramid racket in the Visayas and Mindanao could be the biggest scam the country has seen so far, bigger than the bank scam perpetrated by the Legacy Group, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said Thursday.
Concerned about the possibility some of the victims would take the law into their hands, President Aquino wants the creation of a task force that will expedite the investigation and prosecution of the people who had duped some 15,000 people out of P12 billion, De Lima said.
At a news conference, asked whether the pyramid scam perpetrated by Aman Futures was bigger than that of the Legacy Group of the late Celso de los Angeles, De Lima said, “It looks like it.”
After she and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas met with Aquino Wednesday, De Lima said Aquino told them he wanted the issuance by next week of warrants for the arrest of those behind Aman Futures, particularly its CEO, Manuel Amalilio.
De Lima confirmed that Amalilio was now in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, which is currently under the jurisdiction of Malaysia, which has no extradition treaty with the Philippines. But she said the government could still coordinate with Malaysian authorities to arrest the founder of Aman Futures.
“We have the Interpol mechanisms and we have the Asean Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty,” she said, noting that Malaysia is part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
NBI Director Nonatus Roxas, who attended the news conference, said his office was already coordinating with the Malaysian embassy to ensure it knew where Amalilio was, should the warrant for his arrest be issued. Roxas said the Philippine government would have Amalilio deported.
Even if Amalilio left Malaysia, Roxas said, the NBI “will follow where he is” with the help of counterparts in whichever country he went.
Roxas said the 20 to 30 executives and agents of Aman Futures were still in the country, and “we will take them” when the arrest warrants are issued.
Noting that her department had been stopped by a court ruling from issuing hold-departure orders, De Lima said she could issue only “Lookout Bulletin Orders” for these people, many of whom, she noted, were in hiding.
She said this case showed it was “not right to deprive the DOJ of its HDO and WLO [watchlist order] powers.”
“There are instances that you have to stop a criminal before cases are filed in court. We are powerless now to prevent them because of the TRO,” De Lima said.
Concerned about the magnitude of the problem and the “high emotional state and volatile situation,” the President wants the Department of Interior and Local Government ) and Department of Finance to be involved in going after the operators, De Lima said.
De Lima said the two agencies plus the Department of Justice would be part of the task force that Aquino wants to be created to help in building a case against the operators of Aman Futures and, thus, bring justice to the victims of the scam.
The DOJ will be responsible for investigation and prosecution through the NBI; the DILG will look into the angle of local officials who may have invested in the pyramiding scam; and the DOF will look into the pyramiding scam itself with the help of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, she said.
“There are investors there who are victims and who would want to take the law in their hands and we want to avoid that,” De Lima said.
Because it would not be advisable for the prosecution of the cases to happen in the provinces given the high emotional state of the victims, De Lima said she has asked Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to transfer the cases to Manila so that they could be handled by the 14-member special panel of prosecutors she has created.
The justice secretary said she told Arellano to submit by Friday the complaints in Pagadian City now under preliminary investigation so that their investigation could continue in the capital and “so we can target their immediate filing of criminal cases in court and the arrest warrants can be issued.”
So far, there are 8,000 complainants, all in Pagadian City, where Aman Futures first operated until it expanded to neighboring provinces.
De Lima said the President wanted a consolidated report on the cases. “This is a very serious undertaking and serious assignment for us directly from the President,” she said.
Meanwhile, De Lima said the DOJ was trying to determine whether another group, reportedly engaged in a pyramid scam in Lanao, was part of Aman Futures.
She noted that the “modus operandi” of the Koko Rasuman group and Aman Futures were related.