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Was Fontana raid meant to favor 'crony' in online gambling?

News5 video grab of some of the Chinese workers arrested at Fontana.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Thursday raised the question of whether the November 2016 raid and arrest of 1,316 Chinese workers at Fontana Leisure Park was meant to ease out Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam to allow the entry of administration cronies in the online gaming industry.

In a press conference after attending the fourth Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the P50-million bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration, Trillanes noted that the raid on November 24, 2016 was carried out after the cancellation of their (illegal Chinese workers') visas on November 11, 2016.

“So, on November 11, they cancelled the visas;  so naturally, on November 24, those people had no visas, because they created the reason for the raid. This is a clear case of a shakedown operation to ease out a player in the gambling industry at magpasok ng isang crony at kadikit ni Pangulong [and allow the entry of a crony of President] Duterte,” Trillanes said.

Trillanes named Kim Wong, a casino junket operator in the country, as supposedly wishing to replace Jack Lam in his online gaming operations.

At Thursday's hearing aides of Lam and former police general Wally Sombero clarified to Blue Ribbon probers that Lam was not into online gaming. His facilities at Fontana merely hosted the BPO operations of Chinese call center agents servicing gamers in the mainland.

Kim Wong earlier figured in the $100-million cyber heist at the Bank of Bangladesh, where hackers - with suspected cooperation from insiders - caused the Federal Reserve in New York to release the funds from the Bangladeshi central bank's account in the US. The money was then wired by hackers to bogus accounts in Rizal Commercial  Banking Corporation's Jupiter Avenue Branch in Makati. The money was withdrawn through the Philippine Remittance Corporation and ended up in various casinos in the country.

Si Kim Wong ang gustong pumasok dito sa operation ni [Kim Wong wanted to penetrate the operations of] Jack Lam. Definitely, ginawa ang shakedown upang mapaburan si Kim Wong, 'yan ang nangyari dito [the shakedown was carried out to favor Kim wong; that's what happened here],” Trillanes said, without explaining how he got that information.


Trillanes's theory: President Duterte ordered Justice Secretary Vitallano Aguirre to “orchestrate” everything to ease out Lam from the industry, beginning with the raid of the Fontana operations.

“I am sure that Aguirre has the imprimatur of the President dahil parang nagiging obviously, utus-utusan na itong si Secretary Aguirre, “ Trillanes said.

Regarding the raid, Trillanes explained that neither Aguirre nor the DOJ proper had the mandate to conduct it, but instead used the Fugitive Search Unit of the Bureau of Immigration (BI), headed by Aguirre's unnamed godson.

The senator wondered aloud why Aguirre moved in on Fontana, and then theorized that "because there was a directive. Hindi naman ito kaya ni Kim Wong eh." He noted that Aguirre had a press conference on December 1, "supposedly exposing bribery pero 'yun pala noong November 30, in-expose na ni Mr. [Wally] Sombero at [Charlie] Atong Ang kay Gen. [Charles] Calima,” Trillanes said.

After there was an exposé of an attempted bribery, the BI released 600 of the arrested workers on December 3, and Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said their release was ordered by Secretary Aguirre.

Trillanes noted that after assuming office on June 30, 2016, Duterte had announced a plan to stop online gambling operations in the country.

And yet, Trillanes said that despite the President's supposed disdain for online gambling, the state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) admitted in an earlier hearing it issued 35 licenses with 10 sub-licenses to each operator.

He said one doesn't "have to be a genius" to piece together the scenario contemplated in the flow of events involving Jack Lam's operations.

Lam: no plans to return

Meanwhile, the Macau-based gaming tycoon has no immediate plans to return to Manila to explain his side, given the conflicting signals he had received from the government about his liberty once he returns, and vague assurances of fair play.

Lam's counsel, Atty. Raymund Fortun, told the Blue Ribbon panel that as far as he knew, Lam was not keen on coming back soon to untangle the mess at Fontana, where he had reportedly invested over P30 billion the past decade.

PAGCOR chair Andrea Domingo told the third Blue Ribbon hearing earlier that she and her legal staff had met with Lam thrice to press the agency's point about adjusting the rates at which Lam was paying the government. The businessman never made any attempt to bribe PAGCOR officials, she said.

Right after Aguirre complained that Lam through retired police general Sombero had tried to bribe him, President Duterte had publicly ordered Lam's arrest and threatened to sequester his assets to cover billions that the businessman allegedly owed the government. When asked for what charges the PNP was to arrest Lam, the National Police chief, Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, said he was not sure, but that the arrest order had come from the President.