PAGADIAN CITY, Philippines—Weeks before Aman Futures collapsed, employees of the firm had been warning investors to withdraw their cash placements as soon as they matured to avoid “losing their money forever.”
Looking back, an Internet cafe operator, who had plunked down P200,000 on a 20-day placement with Aman Futures, said the staff had hinted something bad was about to happen.
The operator, who asked to be identified only as Andres, said his own contact had told him that a local politician had withdrawn P19 million in principal and interest sometime in August.
Pagadian Mayor Samuel Co had earlier admitted to having invested in the scheme and said he lost about P5 million.
“He (the contact) convinced me that the withdrawal could be a signal that things were going wrong or were bound to go wrong,” Andres said.
Pagadian Business Chamber president Mercedes Lourdes Quisumbing said she had information pointing to placements made by other politicians who may have been raising funds for the 2013 electoral campaign.
Generoso Bayawa Jr. also heard that some Aman staffers were telling investors to pull their money out.
But Bayawa, a local government employee, said the lack of a timeframe when the bust would occur had pushed investors like him to “try our luck even further” in order to optimize earnings.
“Looking back now, it was quite unbelievable that these warnings, coming from insiders, were unheeded,” Bayawa said.
Many employees in the Aman Futures office in Barangay Kawit live in the village and are relatives of Fernando Luna, one of the directors of the firm.
The warnings began spreading around August, according to Bayawa.
But the investors, he said, seemed to only pay attention to rosy news about fellow investors making more money out of their placements.
Because he also failed to heed the warnings, Bayawa said he lost P1.8 million from the scheme.
Fixated on making money
“We did not believe in the gloomy details because we were fixated with making the most out of the scheme,” Bayawa said.
Besides, the sheer number of people placing their money with Aman Futures seemed to belie the warnings, he said.
The Kawit operations appeared to be unending. Every day throngs of people flocked to invest in the scheme, Bayawa said.
A day before it actually closed shop, Aman Futures accommodated a large crowd of investors through its “VIP lane,” intended for big clients, several Kawit residents observed.
Some of them recounted seeing two pickup trucks unloading “fully loaded sacks,” presumably containing money.
Last call for cash-out
The last call for cash-out at the Aman Futures Kawit office was for placements that fell due on Sept. 25.
At around 3 p.m. of Sept. 26, Aman Futures stopped transactions.
Aman staffers were heard saying that there was an impending raid on the compound because the company’s business permit had not been renewed.
The firm’s employees hurriedly left, telling those waiting to cash out their investments to just hand in their claim receipts. Many investors quickly obliged.
Quisumbing said the closure of Aman Futures indicated that it had reached its “saturation point.”
“This is the stage in a racket when the timing and rate of funds inflow is outpaced by the amount of repayment obligations,” she said.
At this time, the investment racketeers simply disappear with the cash placements.
Quisumbing said she initially estimated the saturation point to be at P1 billion. She said this stage was reached by Aman Futures as early as April or May.
It was also around this time, Quisumbing said, that she had asked the local government to take action against the operation, which she branded a Ponzi scheme.
But the city government gave the firm another permit.
Sources in the business community told the Inquirer the meddling by some city councilors blocked the local government’s chance to crack down on Aman Futures when it was still possible.
The city councilors clearly didn’t want to disappoint the people taking their chances on the scheme, especially since 2013 was nearing, Inquirer sources said.
Senior Supt. Edgar Danao, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Western Mindanao, said more than 100 investors expressed their intention to file charges against the officers of Aman Futures.
“Majority of them are members of the police force and of the business community,” Danao said.