by Charissa M. Luci and Mario B. Casayuran
Dismissed Bureau of Immigration (BI) associate commissioner Al Argosino allegedly demanded P100 million from the camp of gambling mogul Jack Lam in exchange for the release of his 1,300 Chinese workers who were earlier arrested, retired police general Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero and Alex Yu, one of Lam’s interpreters, told the Senate yesterday.
In the same hearing, businessman Charlie “Atong” Ang, business partner of Lam, cleared Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente of extortion in connection with the bribery scandal involving BI.
He said it was Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles who were involved in the scandal.
“Not Morente and Aguirre, but Argosino and Robles, yes,” Ang said during the fourth hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
“Sila ang humingi ng pera (They asked for the money),” Ang said, adding the extortion happened last Nov. 29.
Sombero also cleared Aguirre of extortion.
“May extortion po (There was extortion),” Sombero said when he was questioned separately by Senators Francis “Chiz” Escudero and Joel Villanueva.
Sombero said the extortion happened on Nov. 26, while “the pay-off” transpired the following day.
Alex Yu, one of two interpreters of Lam, likewise testified that the gambling mogul’s camp initially gave P50 million, but the BI officials demanded P50 million more.
He recalled that Argosino told the camp of Lam to produce P100 million or else his 1,300 Chinese employees, who were arrested at Fontana Hotel and Casino in Clark Freeport, Pampanga, will not be released.
“It is up to you, the ball is in your hand,” Yu, quoting Argosino, said.
Sombero said it took sometime before Lam’s “business partners” decided to produce the P100 million being asked by the BI officials.
“Hiniram lang namin sa business partners ni Jack Lam (we borrowed it from the business partners of Jack Lam),” Yu added.
Yu said Lam’s camp handed over the money to Sombero so that he could give it to the BI officials.
Sombero, who acted as a Lam’s “middleman,” reportedly gave P50 million contained in five bags to Robles and Argosino.
Sombero admitted serving as middleman and handed the P50 million to Argosino and Robles, adding he received P10 million from Lam’s camp. He, however, denied getting P2 million from the P50 million given to the BI officials. “Hindi po ako ang nagbigay ng pera, pero ako po ang nag-abot (I am not the source of the money, but I handed over the money),” Sombero said.
His response irked Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon. “Don’t be a smart aleck, don’t give us the runaround,” Gordon chided Sombero.
The retired police official also told the panel that since he did not want to get involved in the withdrawal of money, he designated a certain “Martin” and “Garfield” to do it for him.
But Argosino denied the allegations.
“I did not extort. Sinalya sa amin ang pera nila Sombero, Norman Ng, Alexander Yu, and Jack Lam (The money was given to us by Sombero, Norman Ng, Alexander Yu, and Jack Lam),” he said.
Lam’s camp even claimed the BI officials were charging them P56,000 per head as “bail.”
“Hindi niyo naisip na since wala pang kaso hindi puwede na i-bail? (Didn’t it cross your mind that you cannot post bail because there is no case yet?),” Cayetano asked Ang.
“Pasensya na po, hindi kasi kami abogado. (Pardon us, we are not lawyers),” Ang said.
While Ang and Sombero cleared Aguirre, Gordon blamed the DOJ secretary for not putting a close to the case by not threatening to arrest Sombero for asking him to become the padrino (godfather) of Lam.
“That was a seduction (leading to bribery),” Gordon said.
Aguirre said the request of Sombero to become Lam’s padrino was not a crime because there was no overt act yet.
Meanwhile, Sombero said he appeared at the hearing “to save” the online gaming service industry in the country, which was “being sabotaged and derailed by relentless raids conducted by some misguided law enforcement officers with some misguided judges.”
“Until the occurrence of the unfortunate alleged extortion incident that transpired between November and December 1, I was trying to leave a legacy for my country,” he said.
“Unfortunately, my painstaking efforts to save the industry engulfed me in a controversy that has likewise pushed the online gaming service industry in the brink of extinction,” said Sombero, who served at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for 27 years.
He noted that he has been consistently and humbly offering his services to the government in so far as crafting the implementing guidelines for the full regulation of the gaming industry, both land-based and online.
“Believe it or not, I truly wanted to help President Duterte’s administration inasmuch as I was totally convinced that the Filipino people has finally elected a president who is sincerely committed to reform and have the political will to execute the necessary actions,” Sombero said.
Tags: Al Argosino, Alex Yu, Bureau of Immigration, Charlie “Atong” Ang, Jack Lam, Manila Bulletin, mb.com.ph, News today, P100-M payoff bared, Philippine news, Richard Gordon, Vitaliano Aguirre II, Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero