A Chinese businessman could provide the key to uncovering the $81-million money laundering scam being investigated by the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
Kam Sin Wong, also known as Kim Wong, left the country for “medical treatment” on March 4 and has been unable to attend the hearings, according to a letter sent to the Senate by his lawyer Victor Fernandez.
But Fernandez said Wong is “prepared to cooperate” once his medical treatment is completed.
If and when Wong does turn up, it wouldn’t be the first time one Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong has faced a Senate investigation.
HONG KONG TRIAD?
Fifteen years ago, on August 23, 2001, a 39-year-old Chinese man--also named Kam Sin Wong, alias Kim Wong--faced the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.
Wong sat in the same room just a few steps away from three other men who had accused him of involvement in illegal drugs and other criminal activities.
The three were Col. Victor Corpus, then chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP); former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim; and one Ador Mawanay, an alleged agent of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force.
According to the Senate transcripts of the hearing, Corpus had suspected Sen. Panfilo Lacson of links to the illegal drug trade and that it was Wong who was the senator’s conduit to the drug mafia.
Both Lacson and Wong denied the allegations.
Wong told the Senate hearing that he had no clue as to why the ISAFP was accusing him of such crimes. “Ako ay isang negosyante lang na maliit,” Wong said.
But as the hearing unfolded, it became clear Wong was anything but a small-time businessman.
THE COMPANY HE KEEPS
Wong came to the Philippines at age 10. While in college, he dropped out of school and took a job as an agent of the La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos.
It was not clear how he became a self-styled businessman moving around with some police generals and politicians.
Details were scant, but by the time he faced his accusers at the Senate 15 years ago, Wong had long found himself well entrenched in the corridors of influence.
Under oath, Wong narrated his friendship not only with Lacson, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, but also with Director General Leandro Mendoza, then PNP chief; then Western Police District Chief Avelino Razon; and Chief Supt. Francisco Zubia.
Wong also claimed association with former Sen. Ernesto Herrera, who once led an anti-drug campaign, and the then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza.
He categorically admitted to being a campaign contributor of Atienza as well as his accuser, Lim, who ran for president in 1998.
When pressed by Sen. Nene Pimentel that it was illegal for foreigners like Wong to contribute to a candidate's campaign, Wong said it was his wife who made the contributions.
LIVING IT UP
It was clear the one-time tobacco agent had come a long way.
By 2001, Wong owned a garments business and three restaurants in Manila as well as golf and tennis club memberships.
It would appear business was going very well because he and three Chinese friends were in a position to gift the Western Police District with a building which was constructed within the police headquarters' premises.
By the time the Senate wrapped up its 2001 investigation, Wong was left unscathed, while his principal accuser, Corpus, was admonished for his "blunder."
Corpus had presented the picture of the wrong Wong to the media at the onset of the probe. Mawanay too was deemed an "unreliable" witness, according to the committee report.
Allegations against Lacson were merely passed on to the Department of Justice for further investigation in 2001.
SWINDLING, ESTAFA, ILLEGAL DISMISSAL
NBI records in 2001 showed one Kam Sin Wong had been charged for swindling and estafa.
And then, in 2009, a case of illegal dismissal was filed by one John Aguyaoy before the National Labor Relations Commission against the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. and Kim Wong.
The case reached the Court of Appeals, with the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Corporation saying Wong was “neither an employee (nor) director or stock holder of the company” and Aguyaoy saying “Wong is the real owner …and the police, the public, his employees …were all made to believe that he is the owner because he was in control of all the activities” of the company.
But aside from these cases, not much was heard about Wong, until the name of one Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong surfaced again last week.
By now, most people have heard of how $81 million was electronically stolen from the Bangladesh Bank’s account at the US Federal Reserve and how it entered the Philippine banking system in February 2016 through dollar accounts opened by Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Enrico Teodoro Vasquez, Michael Fransisco Cruz and Alfred Santos Vergara at the RCBC Jupiter Street branch.
And if what RCBC branch manager Maia Deguito told ABS-CBN News were to be believed, it was one Kim Wong who introduced her to Lagrosas, Vasquez, Cruz, and Vergara.
Funds from the four were then consolidated to the dollar account of businessman William Go.
Deguito said it was also Wong who instructed her to open a dollar account under the name of Go.
When the Senate Blue Ribbon committee opened the investigation on March 15, it said it could not locate Lagrosas, Vasquez, Cruz and Vergara at their given addresses.
ABS-CBN News tried to contact the lawyer representing Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong at the Senate hearing, but attempts have been unsuccessful so far.
Lacson, who is running for senator in the May 2016 elections, has made no secret about his friendship with the Kim Wong who appeared at the Senate hearing 15 years ago.
“Si Wong sa pagkaka-alam ko is a [casino] junket operator,” Lacson told ABS-CBN News.
“Matagal ko ng kakilala si Kim Wong pero definitely wala akong kinalaman kung ano man ang pumasok na pera, dapat talaga imbestigahan yun,” he said.
Appearing at the opening of the Senate inquiry last Tuesday, Philrem president Salud Bautista said $21 million of the stolen $81 million was remitted to Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. which, according to Sen. Serge Osmena, was “the company of the missing fellow today, Kim Wong."