Ex-immigration officials in bribery scandal charged with plunder

Lian Buan
Ex-immigration officials in bribery scandal charged with plunder
Former immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima is cleared

MANILA, Philippines – Ombudsman prosecutors on Friday, March 23, filed plunder charges against former immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles and alleged middleman Wally Sombero before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. 

Argosino, Robles, and Sombero were also charged with one count each of graft, direct bribery, and violation of Presidential Decree Number 46, or the prohibition on private individuals to give gifts to public officials.

Former immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima was cleared after Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales granted his motion for reconsideration. In Morales’ earlier indictment, Calima was supposed to be charged with direct bribery and graft.

Context. The case involves the P50-million scandal where gaming tycoon Jack Lam used Sombero as a middleman to allegedly bribe immigration officers to free nearly half of the 1,300 illegal Chinese workers who were arrested in Lam’s Pampanga casino.

There were also allegations that Argosino and Robles extorted P50 million from Lam, something that both officials denied.

During the course of Senate investigations, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II also got dragged into the controversy.

Prior to the meeting of then immigration officials and Sombero, Aguirre had a private meeting with Lam, along with Argosino, Sombero, and two interpreters.

On Tuesday, March 20, the Senate adopted the Senate blue ribbon committee report on the BI bribery scandal, hitting Aguirre for privately meeting with Lam

The report ordered Aguirre to “explain thoroughly” why he met with Lam and the tycoon’s alleged associate Wally Sombero on November 26, 2016 at a hotel, and discussed the arrest of Chinese nationals in Pampanga. (READ: Senate BI bribery probe: 3 hard questions for Aguirre)

Ombudsman’s findings. The case took on another twist when the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) recommended only graft charges against Argosino and Robles because they recovered only P49,999,000 – P1,000 short of the P50-million threshold for plunder.

Aguirre was criticized then because Argosino and Robles are his Lex Taleonis fraternity brothers.

Nevertheless, Morales found basis to charge them with plunder.

“It bears emphasis that Argosino is the main plunderer being the one who demanded for the total sum of P100 million received through a series of two separate overt criminal acts and took ownership of a total of P50 million at the City of Dreams after asking for Robles’ company and help (carrying and keeping two paper bags of money) and thereafter giving shares of the loot to Sombero and Calima,” said Morales’ final order before charges were filed at the Sandiganbayan. – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.