(UPDATE 3 – 5:37 p.m.) MANILA, Philippines — Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has ordered the filing of plunder and bribery charges against former Bureau of Immigration commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and retired police officer Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero Jr., after they were allegedly found to have extorted P50 million in exchange for the release of 1,316 arrested Chinese nationals who had violated Philippine immigration laws.
Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of President Rodrigo Duterte. They are members of the San Beda College of Law’s Lex Talionis Fraternitas. The chief executive said he had fired the two and the bureau’s intelligence chief Charles Calima Jr. in December last year in line with his promise to stop corruption.
Calima also faces one count of direct bribery and one count of violating Section 3(e) of Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
“Calima’s criminal liability stems from his participation in the extortion plot as he received P18 million from Argosino and Robles to, among other things, keep his silence,” said the Ombudsman in a statement issued Friday, Oct. 27.
Chinese businessman Jack Lam will likewise be charged with one count of violation of Presidential Decree No. 46 for allegedly giving P50 million to the former BI officials. The law makes it punishable for public officials and employees to receive, and for private persons to give, gifts on any occasion, Including Christmas.
The Ombudsman’s office said it had “established” through its investigations that “Argosino and Robles received P50 million from…Lam in a deal facilitated by Sombero.”
“The Ombudsman found that on November 27, 2016, Argosino and Robles, in connivance with Sombero, accumulated or acquired ill-gotten wealth in the amount of P50 million, through a combination or series of overt or criminal acts committed on a single day,” the office said.
‘Return of money short of P1K can’t excuse them from being indicted for plunder’
Earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said it appeared that there was “deliberate attempt” on the part of Argosino and Robles to shield themselves from being sued for non-bailable plunder charges after the lawmaker learned, during the recent budget deliberations, that the money recovered from Argosino and Robles was only P49,999,000 or P1,000 short to hold them liable for plunder, based on Republic Act 7080.
But Carpio-Morales, in a consolidated resolution, said that “while the amount returned…to the Department of Justice lacks P1,000.00, it cannot excuse them from being indicted for plunder” because Argosino and Robles “failed to controvert, by clear and convincing evidence, the claims of Norman Ng and Alex Yu (Lam’s business associates) that money, amounting to P50 million, changed hands at the City of Dreams in…Manila.”
“This is aside from Robles’ admission that “they took possession of all five bags containing the P50 million,” the Ombudsman added.
Argosino, Robles, and Sombero, president of Asian Gaming Service Providers Association (AGSPA), Inc., also face one count each of direct bribery and violation of Section 3(e) of R.A. Act 3019.
They will also be charged with two counts of violating P.D. No. 46.
The Ombudsman gave no credence to Argosino and Robles’ claim that they merely took custody of the money for safekeeping.
“(T)heir failure to immediately report to the proper investigating authority, or at the very least, their superiors, (DOJ) Sec. (Vitaliano) Aguirre and Commissioner (Jaime) Morente, that they had custody of the P50 million, contradicts their professed intentions.”
She adds that their acts of (1) giving P2M to Sombero; (2) keeping the remaining money with them from 27 November 2016 to 8 December 2016, instead of turning over the same to the proper authorities for safekeeping; and (3) negotiating with, agreeing to give and actually delivering P18M to Calima on 9 December 2016 as his share in the P50M, are all acts of ownership, which showed that they treated the P50M that they received as their own.
The Ombudsman added that “Argosino and Robles used their official functions as deputy commissioners of the BI in the commission of the said crimes while Sombero acted as a conspirator and middle man.”
“Sombero’s indispensable role and representation as president of AGSPA paved the way for the consummation of the transaction,” she said.
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