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Forfeiture cases eyed vs raided POGOs

Jose Rodel Clapano - The Philippine Star
Forfeiture cases eyed vs raided POGOs
Handout photo from PAOCC shows a Chi- nese military sergeant badge found at a PoGo hub in Porac, Pampanga.

MANILA, Philippines — Forfeiture cases await all the seized items, properties and equipment from the Philippine offshore gaming operator (POGO) hubs raided by the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, PAOCC Undersecretary Gilbert Cruz said yesterday.

Cruz, guest of the Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum, said they would file for forfeiture of seized currencies, buildings, gadgets and other equipment once their inventory of evidence from 46 raided POGO buildings in Porac, Pampanga is finished.

“So far, we have taken down eight POGOs. These include hospitals that are operating without a license. The doctors we arrested, a Vietnamese national, a doctor, nurses and pharmacists have no license,” Cruz said.

“What is alarming here is that they practice medicine and treated even the fugitives. They also have cosmetic surgeons. They planted hair. Meaning they can change the physical looks of the fugitives,” he said.

Cruz said all the raided POGO hubs are equipped with torture rooms, cubicles for prostitution and rooms for scamming activities.

“We confiscated thousands of pre-registered SIM cards. There are also bloodstains in the rooms, which indicate that they were torturing people. The fugitives have assumed names and drivers licenses and other IDs,” he said.

Cruz said they confiscated 100 grams of suspected shabu.

One POGO worker and Chinese national told them that he was tortured for failing to meet the quota of P5 million to P8 million per day, Cruz said.

“The torture victim told us that they were beaten with baton and other torture equipment. They are not also allowed to use their cellphone, which will cost them P10,000 fine if caught,” he said.

Cruz also said that one of the Chinese nationals that they arrested, identified as Wu Li Feng, turned out to be the “enforcer of torture” among POGO’s foreign and local workers.

“He was browsing his cellphone when we arrested him. He did not show any nervousness while we were questioning him and during his arrest. His cellphone contains the photos of the POGO workers that were tortured. The photos even included mine,” Cruz said.

“When we checked, we were informed that Wu Ling Feng’s crimes include violent crimes. He appeared to be well trained in torture and he is vain. He was very relaxed during the interrogation,” he added.

The PAOCC has already spent about P35 million to P40 million since it started its campaign against the illegal operations of POGOs nationwide, according to Cruz.

“We really want to put a stop to POGOs operations,” he said.

Cruz said that PAOCC expenditures do not only cover raids of hubs but also for the deportation of foreign criminals working for POGO.

“We also need to protect our witnesses because they could easily be bought or killed,” he said.

POGOs China's Trojan horse?

National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) director Ricardo de Leon meanwhile said that

his agency is also validating all information, including the angle that POGOs may have been China’s “Trojan horse” – referring to Greek mythology that led to the fall of Troy.

“On Trojan horse, we continue to validate. We cannot say yet that they are capable,” De Leon said.

Cruz said that one of the equipment confiscated during a POGO raid in Pasay City was communication equipment with foreign characters, which experts said may have been used to directly communicate with China.

De Leon said this equipment, as well as other pieces of evidence, are being subjected to forensic examination.

“NICA is coordinating with our intelligence counterpart in other countries for experts to intervene,” De Leon said.

However, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it is too early to say if the illegal POGO hub in Pampanga is involved in espionage.

PNP chief information officer Col. Jean Fajardo said investigators have yet to secure evidence that would show that the people inside the raided compound were spying on the country’s government facilities.

Fajardo said the hundreds of computers, cellphones and gadgets seized from the POGO hub have yet to be examined as police will still have to apply for a warrant to examine computer data from a court.

PAOCC also found what appeared to be military uniforms from the People’s Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party, during the raid. They also found a Chinese military sergeant badge, a handgun and several bullets yesterday.

Fajardo said the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group is investigating if the uniforms and those who wore them are indeed connected with the Chinese military.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said Tuesday the presence of Chinese military uniforms may likely be used as props in these illicit online transactions. The limited number of PLA uniforms found suggests they are more indicative of use in deceptive activities rather than any preparation for invasion.

Meanwhile Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said that while not yet a national security threat, POGO sites in the country are now a national security concern.

“The concern is that we should stop these syndicated criminal activities operating out of our base, which weaken our financial standing, our country ratings… corrupt our society,” he said in a statement yesterday.

De Leon said it is up to the policymakers whether to ban or to just regulate POGO operations in the country.

“We are calling on our policymakers to review POGO. Are we gaining or losing the war because it is affecting the youth. The policymakers are the ones making the laws. We gather inputs which we provide to our leaders,” De Leon said.

Speaker Martin Romualdez has expressed openness to the existence of POGO in the country, but issued a stern reminder that all Philippine laws must be strictly adhered to the letter. – Michael Punongbayan, Emmanuel Tupas, Louise Maureen Simeon, Delon Porcalla

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