How did they get away? Already, the high-roller cheats were under arrest and charged with estafa, a nonbailable offense. So, what happened?
Lawmakers on Wednesday blamed Department of Justice (DoJ) prosecutors and Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials for allowing three members of a foreign gambling syndicate to leave the country.
The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) lost some P160 million in April to members of the syndicate that used a hidden camera to cheat at baccarat in three casinos of the state-gaming firm in Metro Manila. The syndicate was led by Loo Choon Beng alias Ben Lui.
Three suspected card cheats were arrested and charged with syndicated estafa, a nonbailable offense, in the Parañaque Regional Trial Court, but the case was later downgraded to simple estafa by the DOJ, allowing the suspects to post bail and later leave the country.
At Wednesday’s joint hearing of the House committees on justice and games and amusement, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas asked why Prosecutor General Claro Arellano, Justice Undersecretary Zabedin Azis and Parañaque Prosecutors Apolinar Quetulio Jr. and Amerhassan C. Paudac downgraded the charges.
The syndicate members charged on May 9 were Kit Mang Chiang (who was armed with a hidden camera under his sleeve while serving as the card cutter); Qianghua Zheng (receiver of the data on the sequence of cards as these were being cut and dealt) and Chian Keok Hwa (the lookout).
The recording was dictated to another player through a phone call.
Lui, a longtime Pagcor high roller, was charged but escaped the clutches of Pagcor security.
Fariñas said Parañaque prosecutors made another blunder when they did not order the arrest of the three syndicate members when they failed to appear at their arraignment.
Late hold order
Fariñas said the DoJ made matters worse by issuing a hold-departure order against the three and Lui two days too late.
“I’m just wondering why you let them go lightly with all the evidence against them? They robbed our state casinos and you allowed them to walk away. You should ask yourselves whether you are for the prosecution or for their defense,” said an exasperated Fariñas.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said Immigration Commissioner Ricardo A. David Jr. erred because he did not put the entire gang on the watch list immediately after Pagcor informed his office.
In a video presentation showing the footage of the scam at the Airport Casino Filipino (at 8:58 p.m. on May 8), the four converged at Table 69. Chiang was using “hard curved plastic attached to his finger which he glided on top of the cards before making a cut.”
He then proceeded to the restroom while Hwa started talking on the phone. Zheng put on his earphones and Lui looked on.
It was a sting operation as the four and three other unnamed Chinese nationals were already banned a few days earlier after they were caught at the Casino Filipino Hyatt branch carrying out the scam.
Pagcor security arrested the three gang members, except for Lui, at the exit.
“The group tucked a miniature camera under the gambler’s sleeve to record the value and suit of each card. They bet accordingly with the information they got from the prerecorded sequence of cards,” according to the Pagcor presentation.
Pagcor claimed that Chiang had confessed to the scam which, based on the memory card in the miniature camera, had been carried out in Pagcor casinos since April.
Like Las Vegas gang
The state-gaming firm noted that the syndicate’s modus operandi was similar to the scheme of the “cutters” gang, which fleeced Las Vegas casinos of millions of dollars early this year.
After getting wind of the high-tech scam being perpetrated in Macau, Cambodia, Australia and the United States, Pagcor started reviewing its CCTVs amid a string of losses involving Lui.
Pagcor claimed that it was the first casino operator in the world to arrest and charge the syndicate.
The gaming firm said it lost to the syndicate P121.078 million in the Airport Casino; P17 million in the Heritage Hotel Casino and P19 million in the Hyatt Hotel Casino.