Aguirre, 2 others cleared in BI ‘extortion’ mess

MANILA-- A Senate panel on Thursday cleared Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II of any liability in the alleged PHP50 million extortion case involving officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

The case was previously cited in news reports as a bribery, however, Gordon said that it was actually an extortion.

Aguirre earlier admitted that he met both Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam and his middleman, retired police official Wally Sombero Jr., to discuss the request to release Chinese nationals illegally working in the country.

Lam owns an online casino called Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga which employed around 1,316 Chinese nationals working without permits. The workers were arrested on Nov. 24, 2016.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, said that he saw nothing wrong with Aguirre meeting both Lam and Sombero noting that it was done in a public place -- Shangri-La at the Fort Manila.

"I would not have the proof to say that he is involved," Gordon told reporters in an interview after the fifth hearing into the issue.

"Walang masama doon (There's nothing wrong with meeting Jack Lam). It's a public place, they saw each other and they did not deny it. Sa tingin ko walang problema yan (I think there's no problem there)," he added.

Aguirre previously said that he only agreed to meet Sombero in the hotel because he was also attending an award ceremony in the same venue and that it was merely to save time and convenience.

Gordon said that the least Aguirre could get is a "cautionary statement" for negligence. However, the senator said that he is "not sure yet."

Lam, Sombero also cleared

Gordon said that he also cleared Lam of any liability noting that he was "one of the investors of the country" and that his alleged bribe was not proven.

"I see no liability of Jack Lam because Jack Lam operates a casino," he further said. "It was not proven. Wala naman s'ya doon (He wasn't there)."

He also said it was not proven that Lam offered a PHP50 million bribe to ex-BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, who both admitted to meeting Sombero in the City of Dreams on Nov. 26, 2016 and accepting paper bags which contained the money to keep them as "evidence."

Meanwhile, Gordon said that he will still have to "check" whether Sombero is liable noting that he could only be liable if it was proven to be a bribery, however, the senator believed it was indeed an extortion.

Gordon said that the only persons who he is "sure" of being liable are Argosino and Robles who have long been sacked.

"Mali kasi ang ginawa nila. Tinago nila (What they did was wrong, they hid it [the money]). What you should have done is turn over the money right away, file a case against people so that nobody will get the perception that you have done something wrong," Gordon said.

Also possibly liable are BI commissioner Jaime Morente and Immigration Intelligence chief, retired Police Director Charles Calima.

Argosino and Robles claimed that Calima blackmailed them by saying that he had footage of their meeting with Sombero in the City of Dreams.

Calima was reportedly tipped by Sombero that there were CCTV recordings of the two ex-BI officials receiving what was then reported as an alleged bribe.

Source: Philippines News Agency