Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday ordered Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente to return the PHP20 million from the PHP50-million cash received by two Bureau of Immigration (BI) deputy commissioners from the camp of online gaming operator Chinese gaming tycoon Yon Lok Lam alias 'Jack Lam' at the Fontana Leisure Park in Pampanga.
"In view of your express admission that you authorized General Charles Calima, the former acting intelligence chief of the BI, to conduct a counter-intelligence operation in connection of the alleged PHP50 million extortion purportedly committed by former Associate Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles, and in order to preserve the evidence of such extortion activity, you are hereby directed to turn-over within 24 hours, the remaining PHP20 million to this Department for safekeeping or to the National Bureau of Investigation, the agency conducting investigation on the alleged extortion incident," Aguirre said in a one-page order, adding that Morente must submit a report stating his compliance with the directive not later than 5:00 p.m. on Thursday.
"It is understood that you are authorized to take any and all appropriate steps to secure and safely turn-over the aforesaid PHP20 million as directed," he added.
The DOJ chief also directed Morente to furnish his office "any and all reports relative to the counter-intelligence operation made by General Calima before he was terminated from service as well as those action that you took after receiving the said reports."
Aguirre said this will be part of the ongoing fact-finding probe of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) after Argosino and Robles surrendered to his office last week only PHP30 million.
Argosino and Robles earlier claimed that Sombero took the PHP2 million for his alleged commission while the other PHP18 million went to BI intelligence division chief Charles Calima Jr., who was already ordered dismissed by Aguirre along with technical assistant for intelligence Edward Chan.
"It is a proof of corruption. It should be surrendered immediately for accounting and safekeeping. The longer it remains unsu?rendered, the longer the doubt persist," Aguirre II said
The money allegedly forms part of the PHP50 million "bribe" offered to BI officials for the release the Chinese referred to above.
"Money was given, money was taken, both in supposed violation of our criminal laws, it has to be surrended as part of our on-going investigation. Corruption must stop," said Aguirre.
The bribe money was supposedly for the release of the undocumented Chinese workers arrested in Lam's illegal casino facility in his Fontana Leisure Resort in Clark Field, Pampanga last Nov. 24.
Of the 1,316 arrested Chinese nationals, a total of 592 were granted bail by the BI board of commissioners. Only 43 of them were charged in DOJ for violation of Presidential Decree 1602 (Illegal Gambling) and Republic Act 10175 (Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012).
Earlier, Aguirre said he is mulling a top to bottom revamp at the BI due to the recent controversy.
Argosino and Robles were accused of extorting PHP50 million from Lam for the release of Chinese nationals arrested last month while working on the latter's online gambling casino at the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga.
The two former BI officials, who resigned and were eventually fired by President Rodrigo Duterte last week, admitted accepting the money but insisted that they were only investigating the corruption in the BI and that Calima took PHP18 million of the amount while PHP2 million was also taken by retired police general Wally Sombero who was acting as Lam's middlemen.
Argosino and Robles denied the allegations, saying that the money was accepted to be used as evidence in their investigation on corruption in the agency involving the Chinese businessman.
Argosino and Robles were fraternity brothers of Duterte and Aguirre in San Beda College of Law's Lex Talionis Fraternitas Inc.
Aguirre also sacked Calima and BI technical assistant for intelligence Edward Chan who were also implicated in the extortion controversy.
Source: Philippines News Agency