The Philippines top law enforcement official says the authorities were offered significant bribes to release the Chinese nationals arrested last week for illegally working in the online gambling business.
Last Friday, National Bureau of Immigration and Department of Justice officers raided the Fontana Leisure Park & Casino in the Clark Freeport Zone, arresting 1,316 Chinese nationals who were found working as call center staff for an online gambling operation.
The arrested suspects, none of whom had applied to work in the Philippines, are in the process of being deported for overstaying their welcome and violating the conditions of their tourist visas.
On Tuesday, Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II raised eyebrows when he claimed that Department of Justice officials had been offered bribes to release the arrested workers.
The Inquirer quoted Aguirre saying these bribes had ranged up to P200k (US $4k) for each worker, which would total an astonishing P263.2m ($5.3m) for the lot. (Seriously, has anyone x-rayed these workers to see if they all swallowed diamonds during the raids?)
As impressive as that total might be, Aguirre said the bribes weren’t enough to deter officials from their fight against crime and corruption. Aguirre had a simple message for lawbreakers: “Break it and we will go after you.”
Bureau of Immigration spokesman Tonette Mangrobang claimed the Chinese workers had been engaged in “an unlicensed online gaming business.” The Inquirer claimed the workers were supporting the online gambling operations of Jack Lam, who operates the Fontana casino. Lam is also the chairman of the Jimei Group, a leading Asian casino junket operator.
In April 2015, Lam’s online gambling operations were the subject of a blistering op-ed by Manila Times journalist Erwin Tulfo, who accused Lam of operating without the permission of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR). Tulfo also accused Lam of issuing ‘sub-licenses” to Chinese and Korean nationals and, perhaps presciently, claimed Lam’s online dealings had “gained the ire” of certain immigration officials.
Last Friday’s arrests followed a similar sweep in September that netted 154 Chinese nationals working at a different online gambling operation at the Clark Freeport. That was followed by last month’s bust of an illegal online gambling operation in Makati at which 50 Chinese nationals were detained. The Philippines is in the process of restructuring its online gambling market to require all operators to hold a PAGCOR offshore gaming operator (POGO) license.