MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday, October 27, indicted for plunder former immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles over the P50-million corruption scandal involving gambling tycoon Jack Lam.
Lam's alleged middleman, Wally Sombero was also indicted for plunder, a non-bailable offense.
The Ombudsman made the decision even after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) only filed a graft complaint against the two former immigration officials, and even if the amount involved was P1,000 less than the minimum threshold for plunder.
Republic Act 7659 states that the minimum amount of illegally acquired wealth to qualify as plunder is P50 million.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II earlier told the Senate at his department's budget hearing that a total of P49,999,000 funds were surrendered to authorities in connection with the BI corruption case – not enough for the case to call under plunder.
Argosino and Robles are Aguirre's fraternity brothers at Lex Taleonis.
The Ombudsman said that despite such arguments, the two former officials failed to dispute the claims of two business associates of Lam that Argosino and Robles received a total of P50 million.
“While the amount returned by Argosino to the Department of Justice lacks One Thousand Pesos (P1,000.00), it cannot excuse them from being indicted for Plunder since they failed to controvert, by clear and convincing evidence, the claims of Norman Ng and Alex Yu (Lam’s business associates) that money, amounting to P50M, changed hands at the City of Dreams in the City of Manila," said the ruling approved by Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales.
Former immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima was indicted for direct bribery and graft.
Argosino accused Calima of seeking a cut from the P50 million, which was allegedly offered to them by Lam in exchange for the release 1,300 Chinese nationals arrested for illegally working for Lam's casino in Pampanga. (READ: Macau's top gambling tycoon: Who is Jack Lam?)
Lam was indicted for one count of violation Presidential Decree Number 46 or the prohibition on private individuals to give gifts to public officials.
Argosino, Robles, and Sombero also face one count each of direct bribery, graft and violation of Presidential Decree No. 46.
Argosino and Robles defended themselves by saying they were just taking custody of the money as evidence in cases against illegal online gambling, but the Ombudsman did not find merit in this argument.
“Their 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 P50M, contradicts their professed intentions," Morales said.
Argosino and Robles had earlier withdrawn their complaint against Lam for corruption of public officers and violation of the anti-wiretapping law before the Parañaque City Prosecutor's Office.
Senator Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee which conducted the probe into the BI scandal, had cleared Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Lam, and Sombero.
Gordon had said that the two most liable in the scam are Robles and Argosino. – Rappler.com