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Ceza open to scrutiny on online gaming operations

/ 05:20 AM December 26, 2016

CLARK FREEPORT—The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) announced it is opening its books of accounts and operations to a government investigating team led by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, following President Duterte’s directive on Thursday to ban all forms of online gaming.

In a statement, Ceza Administrator Jose Mari Ponce said: “Ceza shall be open to the investigation of its online gaming support services operations, specifically its licensing process, actual operations, books of account, income flow, remittances to the government and other information that may be necessary or that may be required to clear up issues in the investigation.”

He added that he serves at the pleasure of the President and would heed all directives coming from Mr. Duterte regarding Ceza operations.

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Ponce said the President is assured of his full cooperation in the investigation.

During ceremonies marking his signing of next year’s budget, Mr. Duterte said he is ordering all online gaming operations to be shut down.

According to a previous Inquirer report, the President has tapped Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to lead a task force to crack down on online gaming casinos in economic zones in Cagayan, Aurora and Bataan provinces for massive tax evasion.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is drafting an executive order to empower the task force to look into allegations that these online gaming casinos have been depriving the government a trillion pesos in lost revenue annually based on the President’s estimates, according to Aguirre.

Aguirre, however, had clarified that the President was referring only to companies that obtained their licenses from Ceza, which was controlled by former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez; Aurora Pacific Economic Zone, which was controlled by former Sen. Edgardo Angara; and those operating inside the Authority of the Freeport Area of Bataan, the former Bataan Export Processing Zone.

Mr. Duterte said during a visit to Pampanga that he also ordered the arrest of Macau gambling tycoon Jack Lam, whose company Jimei runs the 300-hectare Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in this freeport.

Immigration authorities found more than 1,300 Chinese working there without proper permits in November.

Records of the Clark Development Corp., which manages the Clark Freeport, show Ceza issued the permit for business processing operations related to online gaming to a supposed Lam subsidiary, Next Games Outsourcing Inc.

Mr. Duterte had blamed the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) for the proliferation of online gaming outlets in economic zones.

But former Butuan City Rep. Charito Booc Plaza, the incumbent Peza director general whom Mr. Duterte had appointed in September, later informed the President that Peza does not process permits for Clark Freeport firms.

The freeport is operated by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority. —TONETTE OREJAS

TAGS: Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, Jose Mari Ponce, online gaming, Philippine news updates
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