Sandigan proceeds with Argosino plunder trial
Former Immigration Deputy Commissioner Al Argosino will remain in jail, as the Sandiganbayan proceeds with the trial of his plunder case in connection with the alleged P50-million payoff from gaming tycoon Jack Lam in 2016.
In a 13-page resolution dated May 29, the court’s Sixth Division said the Ombudsman prosecutors were able to state a “series of overt acts” required for a plunder case to head to a full-blown trial.
Argosino has questioned the validity of the charge sheet, claiming it only alleged “one criminal act of receiving and collecting a sum of money,” and not a “series” as required by Republic Act No. 7080.
However, the court noted that Argosino and his coaccused, former Deputy Commissioner Michael Robles, were accused of receiving the P50-million payoff in two installments.
“Each instance of receiving or collecting a sum of money constitutes a separate act,” read the resolution penned by Associate Justice Sarah Jane T. Fernandez.
Argosino argued that there was only one act because he was also indicted for one count only of direct bribery.
Argosino also argued that the case did not meet the P50-million threshold for the crime of plunder because he and Robles only had custody of P29.999 million.
To recall, P18 million of the P50 million went to immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima—whom the Ombudsman cleared for merely conducting counterintelligence operations on Argosino and Robles—and P2 million went to alleged middleman Wenceslao Sombero Jr.
Of the total amount, P1,000 was supposedly missing.
Argosino also claimed that he and Robles kept the money for the purpose of gathering evidence against Lam, and their turnover of the money to the Department of Justice in December 2016 negated their intention to acquire ill-gotten wealth.
However, the court said these arguments were best threshed out in a full-blown trial.
Associate Justices Karl B. Miranda and Zaldy V. Trespeses concurred in the resolution.
Among the three defendants, only Argosino’s motion to quash has been resolved.
The charges arose from the immigration officials’ alleged demand for a P50-million payoff from Lam in November 2016 in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese workers who were detained for lacking the proper visas.
Last April, the Sandiganbayan ordered the detention of Argosino and Robles — fraternity brothers of President Duterte — as well as Sombero at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, while they face the nonbailable plunder charges.