BI execs say they were only probing corruption
Believe it not not. The two officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), who received P50 million from online gambling tycoon Jack Lam, were only investigating corruption in the agency while keeping the BI chief in the dark.
This was the version of Associate Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles—fraternity brothers of President Duterte and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II—of the extortion controversy involving Macau-based Lam, his aide Wally Sombero and acting BI intelligence chief Charles Calima.
Argosino and Robles finally broke their silence three days after Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo alleged that two associate commissioners extorted P50 million from Lam.
Lam is the owner of an unlicensed online gaming hub at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino at Clark Freeport in Pampanga, which BI agents raided on Nov. 24. A total of 1,316 Chinese nationals were arrested for violating immigration laws.
The two immigration officials denied demanding money from Lam, claiming that they accepted the money with the intention of using it as evidence in their probe.
“Right in front of you is the highest evidence of corruption of public officials. The corruption of public officials that was facilitated by no less than Lam, Sombero, the two interpreters and little did you know, the highest intelligence officer of the BI, Calima,” Argosino said.
‘Evidence’ of corruption
In a press conference in Intramuros, Manila, Argosino and Robles produced the remaining P30 million, referring to it as “evidence of corruption.” The money was divided into P1 million bundles piled on a table.
The BI officials claimed that they received P48 million as Sombero kept the P2 million as “balato” (‘share’ from windfall), while Calima asked for P18 million supposedly to pay off Tulfo and Sombero.
They received the cash from Sombero on the night of Nov. 26 at the City of Dreams hotel and casino in Parañaque, shortly after Lam met with Aguirre.
Five bags of cash
Argosino said he and Robles were not afraid of going to City of Dreams even with lots of security cameras that captured them accepting five bags of cash from Sombero.
Sombero, a former police senior superintendent, reportedly made the proposition to the associate commissioners following Aguirre’s meeting with Lam on Nov. 26 at the Shangri-la Hotel in Bonifacio Global City. Aguirre later accused Lam of attempting to bribe him.
Sombero approached Argosino, saying Lam needed a sponsor to help him with his gambling business and that Lam was willing to give “goodwill” to anyone who could help him get a gaming license.
“Let us meet in City of Dreams tonight and I will discuss it with you,” Sombero allegedly told Argosino, as detailed in a complaint affidavit that the BI officials filed on Tuesday against Lam, Sombero, Calima and the two Chinese interpreters.
They decided to wait for Lam to show up at City of Dreams to prove his connection to corruption in the BI, but the Chinese gambling tycoon was nowhere to be found, Argosino said.
Sombero loaded two bags of money in each of Argosino and Robles’ vehicles, admitting that he kept P2 million for himself as balato.
Argosino said he and Robles were the only ones with evidence of Lam’s payoffs in the BI.
“We will never be instrumental to any attempts that would prevent the Duterte administration from pursuing the reforms that the administration would like to happen,” he said.
‘Gift’ to President
Addressing President Duterte, Argosino said he and Robles were the first BI officials to file corruption charges against Lam, whom the President ordered arrested. Lam has fled the country.
“Mr. President, we are presenting to you the first criminal complaint against Lam, against Sombero, against the two interpreters with the collusion of Calima. This is our gift to you,” Argosino said.
But asked why they waited for so long before breaking their silence, Argosino said he and Robles still had a weak case against Sombero and Lam at the time that they received the P48 million.
“I want to probe deeper,” Argosino said, adding that the offices of the associate commissioners are authorized to conduct their own investigations.
But the two commissioners decided to keep the information to themselves to prevent a leak, not telling even their boss, Commissioner Jaime Morente.
Asked if they did not trust Morente, Argosino replied: “It is not a question of trust and confidence. It is a question of keeping the information to ourselves.”
But in a meeting at the Crown Hotel on Nov. 29, Sombero told them that the P48 million was actually for the dismissal of the cases against the 1,316 Chinese nationals, as per Lam’s instructions.
This was according to the complaint that Argosino and Robles filed against Lam et al.