Chinese casino entrepreneur Jack Lam Yin Lok (pictured) faces the possibility of a prison sentence in the Philippines after being charged there with one count of violation of Presidential Decree 46 “for giving PHP50 million [US$967,000]” to officials of that country’s Bureau of Immigration. The charge was mentioned in a statement on Friday by the nation’s Office of the Ombudsman.
In February a local lawyer representing Mr Lam told the Philippine Senate committee examining the affair that his client would not be returning to that country. In March, the Philippine Senate concluded Mr Lam had been the subject of attempted extortion.
In Friday’s announcement into the alleged bribery incident, the anti-graft body stated Mr Lam was nonetheless culpable for allegedly offering the money.
It stated: “Investigations conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman established that [Al] Argosino and [Michael] Robles received PHP50 million from Chinese businessman Jack Lam in a deal facilitated by [Wenceslao] Sombero.”
Presidential Decree 46, passed in 1972 during the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, makes it an offence – punishable by imprisonment for between one and five years – “for public officials and employees to receive, and for private persons to give, gifts on any occasion”.
Friday’s statement said additionally: “Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the filing of charges for plunder under Republic Act No. 7080 against [former] Bureau of Immigration (BI) [deputy] commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, together with Wenceslao Sombero, Jr, president of the Asian Gaming Service Providers Association, Inc (AGSPA), after they were found to have extorted PHP50 million in exchange for the release of 1,316 arrested Chinese nationals who were violating Philippine immigration laws.”
The act, passed in 1991, says those found guilty of plunder can be punished by life imprisonment, with “perpetual absolute disqualification from holding any public office”.
Earlier this year, the Philippine Senate began an investigation into the alleged PHP50-million bribe said to have been offered by Mr Sombero as a go-between for Mr Lam, to former Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Mr Argosino and Mr Robles. It was said to be in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals arrested in November 2016 on alleged visa irregularities at a facility linked to Mr Lam at Clark Freeport Zone on Luzon island.
In December last year, the Philippine leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, ordered the arrest of Mr Lam for alleged bribery and economic sabotage. At around the same time, it was reported that the local regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor) had officially closed two gaming locations operated by Mr Lam’s business interests in that country: the casino at the Fontana Hot Spring Leisure Parks at Clark; and the gaming venue at the Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Casino in Laoag City.
Friday’s statement from the ombudsman noted: “[Former] Bureau of Immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima, Jr faces one count each for direct bribery and for violation of Section 3(e) of Republic Act 3019 while Lam will be charged with one count of violation of Presidential Decree 46 for giving PHP50 million to the Bureau of Immigration officials.”
Section 3 of Republic Act 3019, a statute passed in 1960, deals with “corrupt practices of public officers”. Violation of it can lead to a prison term of between one and 10 years, as well as disqualification from public office.
Friday’s announcement further stated, citing ombudsman Ms Morales: “Argosino and Robles used their official functions as deputy commissioners of the Bureau of Immigration in the commission of the said crimes while Sombero acted as a conspirator and middle man.”
She further said that “Sombero’s indispensable role and representation as president of AGSPA paved the way for the consummation of the transaction. On the other hand, Calima’s criminal liability stems from his participation in the extortion plot as he received PHP18 million from Argosino and Robles to, among other things, keep his silence.”
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"The ICAC in Hong Kong has the authority to detain people or to arrest people. But being detained or arrested – and actually being charged – are completely different things"
Japanese gaming entrepreneur