A Philippine Senate committee has said Chinese gaming entrepreneur Jack Lam Yin Lok was a victim of “extortion” rather than an instigator of “bribery”.
The Senate investigation centred on an alleged PHP50-million (US$1-million) bribe claimed to have been offered by a go-between for Mr Lam, to former Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles. It was said to be in exchange for the release of Chinese workers arrested in November at a facility run by Mr Lam at Clark Freeport Zone on the main island of Luzon.
Referring to a November 26 meeting in a Manila hotel between the former immigration officials and Wally Sombero, a retired policeman said to be acting for Mr Lam, Senate committee chairman Senator Richard Gordon was quoted by the Business Mirror newspaper as stating: “If they [Mr Argosino and Mr Robles] did their job, they would have filed a case [against Mr Lam] right away for bribery and corruption of public officials.”
It is not clear from the various newspaper reports of the Senate Committee’s proceedings – hearings concluded last week – whether its findings mark the end of all investigations in the Philippines into the alleged bribery matter.
On February 16, a local lawyer for Mr Lam said the businessman – who has operated several casinos in that nation – would not be returning to the Philippines.
The country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, had previously called for Mr Lam’s arrest for alleged bribery and economic sabotage. The country’s Bureau of Immigration had alleged he illegally employed foreign nationals and then tried to bribe immigration officials to close an inquiry into the matter. The country’s casino regulator, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (Pagcor), has ordered the closure of his Philippine operations, claiming he was not paying the necessary dues.
On Friday the GMA News outlet reported that the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority had that day denied that it had ever authorised online gambling operations by Mr Lam.
According to industry observers, most licences issued by the Philippines for online gambling businesses targeting overseas players have originated from the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (known as CEZA), an economic development area in the northeast of the country’s main island. The zone’s master licensor for such permits is First Cagayan Leisure and Resorts Corp, a unit of Leisure & Resorts World Corporation.
“CEZA is not authorised to issue licenses and/or accreditations to companies that intend to operate within the Clark Freeport,” CEZA said according to a statement quoted by GMA News.
The website of Mr Lam’s Jimei Group lists the Fontana Casino at the Fontana Hot Spring Leisure Parks at Clark Freeport Zone on the main island of Luzon, and Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Casino in Laoag City in northern of Luzon, as its Philippine operations.
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”Continued negative coverage of the Abe administration, coupled with political losses for the Liberal Democratic Party ... may reduce support for the gaming agenda, which already has only limited public support”
Analyst at brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein