The fallout from gaming operator Jack Lam’s alleged bribery of Philippine officials shows no sign of abating.
Monday brought word that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has launched a probe of two Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials who allegedly received bribes from Lam. The bribes were intended to obtain the release of the 1,316 Chinese workers arrested last month for illegally working at an online gambling operation at Lam’s Fontana Casino in the Clark Freeport.
The bribe was allegedly made through former police superintendent Wally Sombrero (pictured), the intermediary that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II publicly accused of delivering Lam’s request for Aguirre to become the ‘godfather’ looking out for Lam’s local gaming operations.
On Monday, the Department of Justice said it had video evidence of Sombrero delivering five paper bags, each reportedly containing P10m (US $201k), to two BI assistant commissioners – Michael Robles and Al Argosino – at a restaurant in a casino mall in Parañaque City on November 26, two days after the Chinese workers’ arrests.
BI intelligence chief Charles Calima is also under suspicion for being a witness to the transaction, which it’s claimed came as the result of the BI officials extorting money from Lam for the workers’ release.
SOMBRERO FEARS FOR HIS LIFE
Sombrero, who appeared voluntarily at an NBI office last week in what he claimed was a bid to clear his name, has now been revealed as being under the NBI’s protective custody. Local media claimed that Sombrero ‘fears for his life’ as a result of his coming forward to tell the authorities what he knows.
During his NBI meeting, Sombrero agreed to file an affidavit regarding his role in the Lam shenanigans. Sombrero reportedly told the NBI that he’d reported the BI officials’ extortion attempt to Aguirre after it became clear that the officials wanted more money than originally agreed upon.
Sombrero has denied bribing anyone, despite his pre-scandal assertions that he acted as a middleman between ‘gambling lords’ and Philippine politicians. Sombrero is a longtime associate of Chavit Singson, the former governor of Ilocus Sur province.
CLARK OFFICIALS CONDEMNED
Meanwhile, an anti-corruption group has filed a graft complaint against Clark Freeport officials for tolerating illegal gambling. The Anti-Trapo Movement (ATM) says the arrest of so many illegal Chinese workers means Clark Development Corp bigwigs “cannot feign ignorance” of the existence of illegal online gambling under their noses.
Through his attorney, Lam claimed that the Fontana’s online gambling business had obtained a license from the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), but Aguirre said CEZA “has not authorized any of its operators to set up office or any of its operations in the Clark Freeport.”
Lam, who fled the country shortly before President Rodrigo Duterte ordered his arrest, has reportedly sent feelers about returning to face the music, likely encouraged by Duterte’s comments that Lam could resume his local operations if he paid back tax claims and stopped bribing people. The Chinese embassy in Manila has offered Lam consular assistance in resolving his legal woes.
Both the Fontana and Lam’s other casino in Laoag City were shut down last week and Lam has seen his investor certificate revoked. While no formal arrest warrants have been issued, Aguirre has vowed that Lam will be arrested on charges of bribery and economic sabotage upon his return to the Philippines.