Immigration Deputy Commisioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles present to media P30 million in cash, which they admitted accepting and keeping purportedly as part of an investigation against Macau-based businessman Jack Lam. EDD GUMBAN

Ombudsman indicts ex-Immigration execs on plunder
none ( - October 27, 2017 - 5:31am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 2:20 p.m.) – The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday has indicted former Immigration Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles for plunder in connection with their reported extortion of P50 million from gaming tycoon Jack Lam.

In a statement released on Friday, the Office of the Ombudsman said it has ordered the filing of plunder charge against Argosino, Robles, and Wenceslao "Wally" Sombero Jr., a retired police officer and president of Asian Gaming Service Providers Association.

The Office said that the three "were found to have extorted P50 million in exchange for the release of 1,316 arrested Chinese nationals who were violating Philippine immigration laws."

"The Ombudsman found that on November 27, 2016, 'Argosino and Robles, in connivances with Sombero, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth in the amount of P50M, through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts committed on single day," the statement reads.

Argosino, Robles and Sombero face a count each for direct bribery, violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices, andof violation Presidential Decree No. 46.

Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act holds: " Causing any undue injury to any party, including the Government, or giving any private party any unwarranted benefits, advantage or preference in the discharge of his official administrative or judicial functions through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence."

Former BI Intelligence chief Charles Calima Jr., a retired geenral, who was also present in the Nov. 27 meeting between the officials and Lam, is facing one count each of direct bribery and plunder.

Gaming tycoon Lam is facing a charge of violation of PD 46 for giving gifts to public officials.

Fontana raid

The case stems from the November 2016 raid led by the Bureau of Immigration and National Bureau of Immigration at the Lam-owned Fontana Leisure Resorts.

Argosino and Robles were accused of taking P50 million in exchange for the freedom of the more than 1,000 of the arrested Chinese nationals. Sombero allegedly acted acted as the middleman between the two Immigration officials and the gaming tycoon.

Argosino and Robles, who were eventually sacked by President Rodrigo Duterte, claimed that they received the money as part of their continuing investigation of corruption in the agency and illegal payoffs for gambling operations.

Argosino, Robles, and Duterte are all members of the Lex Talionis Fraternity of the San Beda College of Law. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, also a member of the fraternity, recommended the two for the position.

On Nov. 27, a meeting among Argosino, Robles, Sombero, Lam, his two interpreters Norman Ng and Alexander Yu, and Calima transpired at the City of Dreams in Pasay City. In that meeting, P50 million was given to the ex-immigration officers.

P30 million were received by Argosino and Robles. P2 million went to Sombero, while P18 million went Calima, which he later turned over to the CIDG.

Failure to report, return money

The ombudsman said the two then BI commissioners' “failure to immediately report to the proper investigating authority, or at the very least, their superiors, (DOJ) Sec. (Vitaliano) Aguirre and BI Commissioner (Jaime) Morente, that they had custody of the P50M, contradicts their professed intentions.”

The ombudsman said Argosino and Robles also failed to contradict with convincing evidence the testimonies of Lam's associates Ng and Yu that the P50-million bribe money was given at the City of Dreams Hotel and Casino.

The ombudsman noted that Robles even admitted that “they took possession of all five bags containing the P50M.”

Furthermore, the ombudsman said Argosino and Robles' acts of giving P2 million to Sombero; keeping the remaining money with them from November 27 to December 8, 2016 instead of turning it over to proper authorities for safekeeping; and delivering P18 million to Calima on December 9, 2016 as his share in the P50 million, “are all acts of ownership, which showed that they treated the P50 million that they received as their own”.

As for Sombero, the ombudsman said he played an “indispensable role and representation as president of AGSPA [which] paved the way for the consummation of the transaction.”

Sombero last year turned over to the ombudsman the P2 million money he admitted deducting from the P50-million pay out of Lam.

Sombrero, an associate of Lam, said he handed to Argosino and Robles the gambling tycoon's pay out on November 27, but admitted that he deducted P2 million from the amount to serve as processing fee for the release papers of the arrested Chinese nationals.

Missing P1,000

On Dec.13, 2016, Argosino and Robles turned over P30 million in cash to the Department of Justice. They claimed: "'The truth of the matter is that this case is a continuing investigation about employment of illegal aliens and illegal online gambling operation, as well as on how their experience during the past administration would thrive through illegal payoffs."

The following morning, Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes, in a message to reporters, said that the amount turned over lacked a thousand pesos.

During the Senate's deliberation for the Department of Justice, justice chief Vitaliano Aguirre II said that the plunder case against Argosino and Robles were already dropped due to the missing thousand.

Republic Act 7659, or the Act to Impose Death Penalty on certain Heinous Crimes, sets the minimum of P50 million for cases to qualify as plunder.

But the Ombudsman, in its statement, stressed: "'[W]hile the amount returned by Argosino to the Department of Justice lacks One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00), it cannot excuse them from being indicted for Plunder' since they failed to controvert, by clear and convincing evidence, the claims of Norman Ng and Alex Yu (Lam’s business associates) that money, amounting to P50M, changed hands at the City of Dreams in the City of Manila."

The Ombudsman, in its statement, said that "Argosino and Robles used their official functions as deputy commissioners of the BI in the commission of the said crimes while Sombero acted as a conspirator and middle man."

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