Gordon: Pogos may be cover for China spies
MANILA, Philippines — The murder of a Chinese online gaming worker in Makati City at the hands of alleged members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has heightened anxiety that China may be using Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) for intelligence gathering in the country, Sen. Richard Gordon said on Sunday.
“You will be a stupid country if you drop your guard,’’ he said in a radio interview, pointing out that China has the world’s biggest intelligence agency, with millions of agents.
Gordon noted that China is beefing up its intelligence network in the country so that it will “be ready whatever happens.”
Asked if China was using Pogos to bring in money to finance its intelligence activities, Gordon said: “They are riding on Pogos.”
“While I don’t know if the arrested suspects were really PLA members, in the realm of possibilities that’s very possible,” the senator said.
P8B in less than 2 months
He surmised that the murder on Thursday night of a Chinese Pogo worker, who was gunned down by two suspected members of the PLA, could be related to the suspicious influx into the country of more than $100 million in cash hand-carried by Chinese visitors.
The senator disclosed in an interview with Inquirer editors and reporters on Thursday that more than $160 million (about P8 billion) was brought by a handful of Chinese citizens, who arrived in the country from Dec. 17, 2019, to Feb. 12.
Records of the Bureau of Customs showed that some of the Chinese visitors had carried as much as $5 million, which was supposed to be used for “casino” and “investment.”
Nica task force
Assistant Customs Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla said the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) had created a technical working group (TWG) to look into the matter.
“We are already cooperating with them as to the tenor of the TWG,” Maronilla said in a statement on Sunday.
Gordon urged National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and the military to conduct a thorough counterintelligence check of the Chinese Pogo worker’s killing after the police found PLA IDs on the two arrested suspects.
Police investigators said suspects Yang Chao Wen and Liang Yuan Wu had arranged the meeting with the victim, Yin Jian Tao, to exchange Yin’s more than P300,000 for Yang’s yuan.
Yin was shot dead in the VIP room of Jiang Nan Hot Pot restaurant in Barangay Bel-Air.
Two IDs found on the crime scene were said to belong to Liu Sheng Zhen of the PLA, whom the two suspects claimed was their coworker at an online gaming company.
A third suspect was able to escape after the killing.
Gordon wondered why the two arrested Chinese were carrying guns.
“They are not allowed to bring guns here. Did they coordinate with our police? It’s apparent that they did not,” he aid.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon reiterated that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) should be notified about foreigners who are bringing in more than $10,000 upon their arrival at airports in the country.
Drilon said Gordon’s information showed that some Chinese citizens were using the country to launder their dirty money to avoid criminal liabilities.
“We have never seen this kind of behavior. They seem very confident that they will not be caught,” he said.
Drilon said the Philippines was clearly being used for money laundering. “The Chinese syndicates have been emboldened in making our country a haven for money launderers.”
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Sunday said it “heightened its efforts to address the influx of suspicious large amounts” of foreign currency into the country.
“Several groups of passenger-couriers declaring huge amounts of foreign currency have been identified by the BOC through its sustained monitoring efforts,” the bureau said in a statement.
The BOC added that it was coordinating with the AMLC, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Congress and intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Maronilla said the BOC was referring to the AMLC travelers caught bringing in excess money without declaring it.
He said it was the AMLC that would tell the BOC if bringing into the country excessive foreign currency was money laundering.
‘Not a crime’
“Bringing in money is not a crime in itself. It’s actually bringing in excessive money for the use of anti-money laundering activities. But since it’s not established right away that it’s money laundering activities, we refer them to AMLC,’’ he said.
Undeclared money is usually hidden inside the passenger’s baggage and is discovered during an X-ray examination.
Many of those who declared excess money said it was for investment, but others said it was for leisure or vacation spending, according to the assistant customs commissioner.
—With a report from Tina G. Santos
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