WATCH | Not just P50M: Sacked BI execs tried to extort P100M from Lam - Sombero
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MANILA, Philippines – The sacked Bureau of Immigration associate commissioners accused of getting P50 million in "bribes" from Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam had actually demanded P100 million for the release of hundreds of illegal Chinese workers, according to retired police Senior Superintendent Wally Sombero.
At Thursday's hearing on the BI bribery-extortion scandal, Sombero told senators that they first talked to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre at the City of Dreams resort hotel in Taguig City on November 26, 2016 regarding the release of the Chinese workers caught earlier at Lam's Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Sombero said Lam was accompanied by two of his business partners, Alex Yu and Norman Ng, who served as his interpreters.
Sombero said it was after Aguirre had left when former Bureau of Immigration Associate Commissioner Al Argosino asked for P100 million.
“Nung paghatid ko kay Secretary sa lobby, naghihintay sa akin si former deputy commissioner Al Argosino sa labas. Ang sabi niya sa akin, ‘may nag-o-offer, hindi namin tinanggap kaya para ma-release lahat yan…kasi pag nagpiyansa ganoon din kamahal’. P100 million po ang hinihingi,” Sombero told the Senate.
He said he immediately told Lam about Argosino’s demand for P100 million as goodwill money in exchange for the release of the detained Chinese workers.
“Ayaw niya mag-abono [He (Lam) didn’t want to shell out his own money]. It's too much for him. So he called people from China and they agreed on P100 million and it's a business decision from them," Sombero said.
'We thought it was to cover bail'
Lam’s interpreter Yu told the Senate that they did not know that an illegal transaction was transpiring, saying “Akala ko bail sa pagka-release ng [I thought it was bail for the] workers.”
But Sen. Bam Aquino questioned Yu if they had thought twice whether their payment of P50 million to the BI commissioners was illegal and there was extortion since it was being done at 2 a.m. at the City of Dreams and there was no receipt.
Alex Yu replied: “Wally is helping us. Siyempre tiwala namin lahat nasa kanya [Of course, we trusted him].”
Lam and his business partners decided to give only P50 million on November 26 to the BI officials at the City of Dreams where Argosino and former BI deputy commissioner Michael Robles were captured on closed circuit television (CCTV) camera receiving the money.
During the hearing, Blue Ribbon and Justice committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon raised his voice at Sombero after the latter admitted that two of his men withdrew the money for him, which he reasoned out were done on orders of Yu.
Gordon told Sombero: “You produced the two people! You are bordering on contempt! Alam ko na kinukubli mo sarili mo sa bribery or sumasama ka sa extortion [I know you’re covering yourself against bribery or extortion].”
It was also revealed in the Senate investigation that Lam’s camp paid out P60 million and not P50 million only.
On November 27, another bag containing P10 million was given to Sombero but he did not give it to Argosino.
Sombero said he told Yu that they will not give the P10 million and that P50 million was enough since no Chinese workers have been released.
When asked by Sen. Chiz Escudero where the money was, Sombero admitted that the P10 million was still with him.
He likewise admitted that he deducted P2 million from the P50 million given to the BI commissioners which, he said, was money intended for the lawyers who will process the release of the Chinese workers.
Money given, but no workers freed
Another business partner of Lam, Charlie “Atong” Ang, told the senators he was dismayed that despite the money given, no Chinese workers were released. Ang said Argosino called again on December 1 to demand another P50 million.
It was then that they concluded that an extortion was happening.
He said that on December 2 they called a press conference to reveal the extortion.
At first, Sombero did not admit that it was extortion or bribery but only a "payoff." In the end, he conceded that it was an extortion attempt when asked by Sen. Joel Villanueva.
Meanwhile, Robles insisted that Sombero committed bribery, saying “there was an intention to bribe. We were there to help them, to discuss things. Sinalyahan kami ng pera [We were offered money].”
Gordon, owever, asked him why he and Argosino accepted it, why did he not report it and why they only came out 17 days after receiving the money.
Despite being in the middle of the negotiations between Lam’s camp and the BI officials, Sombero insisted that he was not connected to Lam.
Sen. Leila De Lima questioned Sombero about his identity and called him “a fixer, an operator, a wheeler-dealer”. But Sombero answered that he was “not a fixer”.
Gordon reprimanded Aguirre for his shortcomings, saying that the Justice secretary should have immediately acted when Lam asked him to be his godfather.
“Dapat sinabi nyo agad na tinatangka mo ba ako bilhin? Eh iniwan nyo bata mo dun eh kaya lumaki eh. Naiwan mo. Nag-continuation sila until he got 50 million! Now if the Justice secretary says ‘No. Mr Sombero,you’re out of line’.”
But Aquirre quickly retorted: “I said that. That’s why I intended to leave immediately within 10 minutes.”
Who's 'president' in text exchange?
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV delved into that part of Sombero’s affidavit wherein he stated that he received a text message from Argosino.
The text message read: "Very good, proceed as planned. I'm arranging a meeting with a person with very good connection with President. I may bring him to you and Jack Lam for discussion. Confidential lang muna please."
Trillanes asked Sombero what he understood about the president referred to in the text, but Sombero replied that he had no idea because the President had so many friends and he did not ask Argosino about it.
In another text, there was mention of President Duterte’s daughter and son-in-law.
After the hearing, Trillanes said the scandal would not have happened without the imprematur of the President.
Sen. Alan Cayetano, coming to the President’s defense, however immediately quashed Trillanes’ accusations.
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