Search on for missing P20M of bribe money
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is still clueless about the missing portion of the P50-million bribe money which two sacked officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) allegedly received from Macau-based casino mogul Jack Lam, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said on Thursday.
Aguirre said the search for the missing P20 million would be part of the investigation being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on the biggest corruption scandal to hit the Duterte administration.
“We don’t know where the rest of the money is. The NBI will find out,” Aguirre said.
BI deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles had owned up taking the huge amount and claimed they gave P2 million to Lam’s representative, retired police Senior Supt. Wally Sombero, as his commission.
The pair said they handed over P18 million to former police Director Charles Calima, who was already dismissed by Aguirre as BI intelligence chief over the incident.
Both Argosino and Robles had denied extorting money from Sombero, claiming they received the payoff as part of their investigation into the supposed activities of a syndicate operating in the immigration bureau.
The grease money was supposedly intended for the release of the 600 of the 1,316 Chinese nationals arrested for illegally operating Lam’s online gaming facility at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga.
The two were “brods” of Aguirre and President Duterte, who had vowed “zero tolerance” on corruption, in the Lex Talionis fraternity of the San Beda College of Law.
Aguirre said he himself had appointed Argosino and Robles to their posts and that they were part of the President’s legal team during the elections.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, said there was no logical reason for him to believe Argosino and Robles, who he said appeared to be making up a story to cover their tracks.
“That’s an insult to the intelligence. You have the money with you for 10 days and now you are saying it was an operation? As a former investigator, I won’t buy that,” Lacson said.
The senator said Aguirre clearly did not believe their story and had them removed.
Aguirre had recommended to President Duterte to terminate the two commissioners who accepted the money from Sombero, a high-stakes poker player and a former policeman.
Lam was found last month operating an unlicensed online gambling business and hiring 1,316 illegal Chinese workers at Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino at Clark Freeport in Pampanga.
Not a detainee
But NBI spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin said Sombero could be freed anytime as he was not being treated as a detainee.
He said Sombero voluntarily asked to be placed on “protective custody” and that so far, there was no court order to detain him.
“If they (Sombero’s camp) say they don’t want him [in the NBI], we will release him,” Lavin said.
Lavin added, however, that should the court issue a warrant of arrest against Sombero in connection with the corruption charges filed against him, Sombero’s status would change.
Argosino and Robles had filed extortion attempts against Sombero, Lam, Calima and two Chinese interpreters who were present during a meeting with Aguirre.
The two commissioners however are also facing an investigation after Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo reported they had received millions from Lam in exchange for the release of the Chinese nationals. —WITH REPORTS FROM KRISTINE FELISSE MANGUNAY AND CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO