P20 M from Jack Lam casino bribe remains missing

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
P20 M from Jack Lam casino bribe remains missing

BI deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles earlier claimed that former police general Wally Sombero took the P2 million for his alleged commission while P18 million went to BI intelligence division chief Charles Calima Jr. EDD GUMBAN

MANILA, Philippines - Where did the P20 million from the P50-million cash received by two Immigration deputy commissioners from casino mogul Jack Lam go?

This puzzle continues to challenge probers of the payoff between Bureau of Immigration (BI) deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and former police general Wally Sombero, who supposedly served as Lam’s middleman.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said this will be part of the ongoing fact-finding probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after Argosino and Robles surrendered on Tuesday only P30 million, an amount which was actually even short by P1,000.

“We don’t know where the rest of the money is. The NBI will find out,” Aguirre said.

Argosino and Robles earlier claimed that Sombero took the P2 million for his alleged commission while P18 million went to BI intelligence division chief Charles Calima Jr.

Aguirre ordered the dismissal of Calima, along with technical assistant for intelligence Edward Chan.

The two BI officials, who filed leaves of absence but were already recommended dismissed from government by Aguirre, made the allegation in their complaint for corruption of public officials and violation of anti-wiretapping law before the Parañaque prosecutor’s office against Calima, Sombero and Lam.

They insinuated Calima took P18 million supposedly to be shared with BI commissioner Jaime Morente and newspaper columnist Ramon Tulfo, who exposed the extortion issue on Dec. 10.

Argosino and Robles said they gave Calima P18 million on Dec. 9.

Calima reportedly told them that he knew what happened in the City of Dreams and that Sombero has “surreptitiously, secretly and maliciously” recorded his conversation with Argosino and Robles.

Sombero, Calima and Tulfo have all denied the allegations.

While allowing the probe to take its course, Aguirre admitted the allegations against Argosino and Robles are so grave to warrant their dismissal from the government.

“If there was really an entrapment for bribery as they claimed, they should have arrested Sombero or Calima. But it didn’t happen, that’s why we are having this full blown investigation,” he stressed.

Still, Aguirre explained Argosino and Robles could still be vindicated, depending on the results of the NBI probe.

“If the investigation later on would exonerate them and they would like to apply and go back to government, at least there could be a basis for that. But in the meantime because of the gravity of the accusation, I believe that my action was just proper,” he stressed.

Seeking protection 

Argosino and Robles, on the other hand, have gone into hiding supposedly for fear of their safety.

“We are now in hiding because what we bumped into is no small syndicate. We just hope to be given protection,” Argosino said in a radio interview.

Argosino, who was part of President Duterte’s legal team during the campaign, insisted the payoff last Nov. 27 was part of their bid to catch the syndicate in the BI and Sombero invited them and arranged everything.

He believes they would be vindicated once Lam returns to the country and clarifies the controversy.

“What we need really is Jack Lam. He just has to surface and the boxing is finished,” Argosino stressed.

Even after they were removed from their posts, the BI said the investigation would continue against them.

BI spokesperson Ma. Antonette Mangrobang said the probers would initially look into the escape of the 57 Chinese nationals who were working illegally at the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Pampanga. The probe will also cover the alleged bribery made on Argosino and Robles.

“The investigation would continue, including the escape of the 57 Chinese nationals. The investigation would not stop… It just so happened that the investigation now has a broader scope,” Mangrobang said.

Sombero, who allegedly gave the P50-million bribe to Argosino and Robles, is now in the custody of the NBI.

Officials said Sombero might face a Senate hearing on the issue.

NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin said the Senate hearing would supposedly tackle online gaming in the country, with the possibility that Sombero would be summoned to shed light on the bribery incident.

Sombero’s statement said he allegedly gave P50 million to Argosino and Robles to facilitate the release of some of the thousand Chinese illegal immigrants working at Lam’s casino at Fontana.

Argosino and Robles denied accepting the P50 million in payoffs from Lam.

The two officials maintained they were trying to entrap Lam, but the plan backfired when they were caught holding the bags containing cash.

In a related development, the Lex Talionis fraternity of President Duterte and Aguirre in San Beda College of Law has set an investigation on the reported extortion by Argosino and Robles, who are also frat brothers.

Aguirre revealed several members have called for the expulsion of the two from their fraternity.

“I was informed that the brothers of our fraternity already endorsed the matter to the committee on ethics. There will be an investigation by the fraternity on this matter,” he said.

Aguirre, however, explained Argosino and Robles would be given due process before the fraternity decides on the calls for their expulsion. – With Evelyn Macairan, Ghio Ong

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