The reportedly 1,316 Chinese nationals detained at premises north of the Philippine capital Manila on November 24 are likely to be charged with offences including overstaying in the country and illegal work, according to officials. Meanwhile, questions regarding the legality or otherwise of the online gambling operation for which they were allegedly working have also been discussed.
The Chinese people would be charged with “overstaying, working violation of the limitations and conditions of their visa, and engaging in an unlicensed online gaming business,” said a Bureau of Immigration spokesperson, as quoted on Wednesday by the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper.
The same report cited Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes saying some of the Chinese nationals detained were minors and had been released from custody.
The story added the immigration bureau’s Board of Commissioners was considering issuing a summary deportation order on the foreigners.
A report the previous day by the same news outlet had said any of the detained Chinese nationals that were not “overstaying aliens” would undergo “regular” deportation proceedings, during which they would be allowed to present their defence.
The Wednesday report from the Inquirer quoted the Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre as saying that bribes of up to PHP200,000 (US$4,000) – for every Chinese national released – had been proffered to officials. The report didn’t indicate who was making the alleged bribery attempt, or to whom the money was offered.
The secretary was further quoted saying he expected more illegal workers would be arrested, now that a court had issued a warrant to break open some locked facilities at Clark Freeport that had not been searched during the original raid on November 24.
The Chinese government said on Monday it was “highly concerned” about the detention of some of its citizens, and urged the Philippines to “handle the case in a timely and just manner according to law”.
The Wednesday report from the Inquirer said the enforcement action was against a gambling operation connected to Chinese businessman Jack Lam. Mr Lam is the founder of Jimei Group, and an investor in Macau VIP gambling operations.
The Inquirer stated: “The Chinese arrested in Clark [Freeport Zone] were reportedly running Jack Lam’s online gambling operations that catered mostly to high rollers from mainland China. Lam’s casino licence is only for on-site games.”
A Tuesday report from the same newspaper had said “it was still unclear as to who owned the online gambling firm where the foreigners worked and how long it has been operating”.
GGRAsia approached Jimei Group seeking comment on the reports that Chinese people were working illegally at online gambling operations allegedly linked to Mr Lam, and that such business was itself deemed “illegal” by the Philippine authorities. No response was received by the time this story went online.
Jimei Group’s website lists the Fontana Casino at the Fontana Hot Spring Leisure Parks at Clark as part of its Philippine operations.
A proxy betting operation at Fontana – i.e., games conducted at physical casino tables with real dealers but with bets on the games accepted over the telephone, or via Voice Over Internet Protocol-enabled devices, from customers not physically present at the casino – had been mentioned in an investment analyst note as long ago as January this year.
The document, from Alpha Securities Pty Ltd, a brokerage based in Sydney, New South Wales, in Australia, said: “In Clark, only Fontana provides proxy betting, which is estimated to generate over 50 percent of its revenues from proxy betting and online gaming…”
The context of Alpha’s note was that Australia-listed Frontier Capital Group Ltd, was also interested at that time in pursuing a proxy betting business at a separate Clark Freeport casino it was seeking to acquire.
In the Philippines two bodies – the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (known as Pagcor) and the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) – are known to have respectively issued licences for gambling services delivered via the Internet.
In CEZA’s case, such licences are only for services aimed at offshore – i.e., non-domestic customers. Casino industry sources have told GGRAsia that in the past there have been demarcation disputes between the two bodies regarding issuance of online gaming licences.
In May, the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (known as APECO) in the northeastern part of the country’s main island Luzon told GGRAsia it had also been authorised – prior to the election of the country’s current president Rodrigo Duterte – to license online gaming services.
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Income from gaming operations reported by Philippine casino regulator-cum-operator Pagcor for the first nine months of 2020