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MANILA, Philippines - He said he did it to "help my people."
Pagadian City Mayor Samuel Co, who is accused of being a representative of Aman Futures Group that duped over 15,000 people in Visayas and Mindanao, admitted that he was the one who distributed Aman checks to investors. He insisted though that he had no involvement with the company.
On Wednesday, November 28, Co told Karen Davila on ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel), that after the disappearance of Aman's Pagadian operator Fernando Luna in October, Co set up a stall in city hall where he gave out the checks left in the local Aman office.
Co said he had asked investors whether they still wanted the checks after the office was closed, and got a positive response from the people who demanded for their money. Thus, he said he took it upon himself to distribute the checks that were worth millions of pesos.
But the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) believes otherwise, saying it had sufficient evidence to charge the Liberal Party congressional candidate in the city with graft and estafa. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on November 26 that documentary evidence shows Co's role in the P12-billion pyramid scam.
The ruling Liberal Party is fielding Co against Zamboanga del Sur Gov Antonio Cerilles' wife, Aurora in the May 2013 elections.
Investors-turned-complainants have linked Co and his wife to Aman. They said the couple was directly involved with the scam and that they put up a sub-branch of Aman in Manila, which operated as an authorized representative of the Aman group.
Reports said the complainants had checks showing they deposited money to Co's accounts.
"I allowed the issuance of checks," he admitted. "There were people who lost their money. I had to recover something to give to my people... I took the chance to distribute all the checks at the heart of city hall."
Co called the decision "remedial measures," an attempt to help his constituents. He said the checks with bigger amounts eventually bounced.
He added that the checks were delivered to him by Maria Dona Coyme, one of the alleged finance managers of the trading firm.
Coyme has since said Co sought out investors for the group.
The investigation on Co started after two complainants came forward and sought protection from the NBI on Wednesday, November 21.
Despite the documents submitted by the complainants and Coyme herself, Co consistently denied any involvement with Aman except that of an investor, insisting he was also victimized and lost P5-million from the scam.
He added that the accusations against him are politically motivated, and that his opponents, who had influence over local banks, ordered the banks to close down the account of Aman so investors could not cash their checks.
"They're jealous because I'm the one distributing the checks so the bank closed down the account," he said.
Co said he was surprised that he was suddenly being implicated, and explained he was in Manila in October for days in an attempt to convince the NBI to find Aman chairman and chief executive officer Manuel Amalilio. He said he even personally visited de Lima and asked her to issue a hold departure order for Amalilio to prevent him from leaving the country.
"In the turn of events, I was very disappointed. I tried my best to capture all these accomplices," he said.
Cerilles, who has also implicated Co's involvement, denied the accusations are politically motivated. Like other critics, Cerilles questioned why Co issued Aman a temporary business permit to operate in the city.
In response, Co said Cerilles was more powerful than he was and could have helped the scam. He also slammed the NBI for failing to do more while Amalilio was still in the country, and when he initially asked for help from national agencies.
He said it was their job to investigate the legitimacy of businesses, and had done his best to stop the operations but simply could not.
"This is a different situation. You just cannot understand right now because its already gone," he said. "But during that time, Luna and Amalilio were like gods in our city. All the policemen, all the military, when they're off duty, they were guarding Amalilio and Luna."
Co said the accusations against him did not even make any sense, and that agencies are simply finding someone to blame.
"I'm not one of the planners. I invested in the latter part and I have no involvement actually. Aman is not only operating in Pagadian… they had their system already. They don't need a Mayor to help them."
Co also explained tarpaulins around Pagadian wherein he appeared to support Aman, saying he had them posted to counter Aman's attacks on him.
According to Co, Aman set up sound systems and posters around the city telling people that Co would not extend their business permit. The alleged propaganda angered investors who poured their frustration on Co.
"We put a tarp because when Fernando Luna left, the people [started] marching towards the city hall. All the people are very mad at me," Co said, adding that his constituents threatened not to vote for him in the upcoming elections.
Co said his tarpaulin and own sound system announced to residents that he would extend Aman's permit if they submitted documents "to calm down the people," even if he said he had no real intentions of doing so.
He explained that the same pressure from the people drove him to seek help from other agencies to stop the scam which he found dubious since day one.
Co said he found the operations suspicious because the interest rate was so high, so he cancelled the business permit of Aman in June. Despite the cancellation however, he said he could not stop the company from operating because hundreds of investors pleaded for him not to close it.
"I cannot stop it that's why I wrote Sangguniang Paglungsod," he said. "I've been attacked by so many people in my City Hall. At that time, I noticed in June, it was already picking up. Only a couple of days the line was already by the thousands and it grew so fast. The turn of evens were so fast and everyone was already there."
Forced to invest
Despite his supposed doubts, Co said he eventually invested in August after pressure from his group mounted.
He said the people he worked with forced him to invest since his political opponents had already invested. The rationale, he said, was that his P5-million pesos, if he invested with Aman, could reach up to P1.2-billion in 9 months or by the time the elections rolled around. Co decided to invest under a different name.
"They were afraid during elections I could only give them small money," he said.
Co said that his group had considered the collapse of the company before the elections, but justified that in that event, at least everyone -- he and his political opponents -- would lose money, which meant they would have all lost funds making it fair for all.
He pegged his first investment at 500,000 pesos, which was returned to him within a week, along with 35% interest. He said he and his group, a mix of relatives, friends and other City Hall officials, invested a total of P42-million.
Co denied he invested any public funds. - Rappler.com