MANILA, Philippines - The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has launched a probe of Pagadian City Mayor Samuel Co after some victims accused him of involvement in the multibillion-peso pyramid scam of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc.
Denying the allegations, Co has said he was also a victim.
Lawyer Virgilio Mendez, NBI deputy director for regional operations services, yesterday said they would probe Co, although they have no evidence so far of his involvement in the scam.
“There were complainants who were pointing to Mayor Co,” he said. “The information is very disturbing.”
Mendez said the NBI is still waiting for a formal complaint from the victims.
“Mayor Co is also claiming that he was also a victim,” Mendez said. “The NBI is investigating Mayor Co although we have not summoned him yet. There are no charges yet. There are just testimonies implicating the mayor. They are blaming the mayor.”
Mendez said they are coordinating with several government agencies to provide leads on the whereabouts of the scam suspects.
He said Manuel Amalilio, founder of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc., is not a Filipino-Malaysian but a Malaysian named Mohammad Suffian Saaid who is married to a Filipina. The NBI has not found the wife.
Mendez said no hold departure order (HDO) or watch list order has been issued for Amalilio and the other suspects because there is no court-issued warrant for their arrest.
Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. has issued a lookout bulletin for Amalilio and other executives and directors of Aman Futures. David said without an arrest warrant or HDO from the court, immigration officers cannot prevent those in the lookout bulletin from leaving the country.
“If anyone of them is seen leaving the country, we can only report their departure to the Department of Justice for monitoring purposes, but we cannot prevent them from leaving,” he said.
Only a judge can issue an arrest warrant or HDO against the suspects, David said.
Placed in the lookout bulletin are Amalilio, Fernando Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Eduard Lim, William Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez, Lurix Lopez, Prescilla Ann Co, Nimfa Luna, Rico Medina, Dhurwin Wenceslao, Reggie Luna, Araceli Pasco, Marilou Caballero, Shiela Luna Lasaca, Alfredo Aspira, Police 0fficer 2 Ariel Real, Ernesto Luna, Police 0fficer 3 Rey Chang, Edward Amao, Maria Donna Coyme, Araceli Pasco Julian, Darwin Luna, Toto Caballero, Amay Caballero, Eric Lasaca, Judy Amarao, Edna Dalena, Dickens Dalena, Eva Dalena, Isojo Casil, Edna Caballero, Patrick Ceniza, Diosdado Mag-aso, Frederick Mag-aso, Leonita Duhaylungsod, Angelo Duhaylungsod and Roger Tenajeros.
Mendez said the case against the suspects has not yet been filed in court.
More than 8,000 complaints have been filed against them mostly in Pagadian City, some in Cebu, and some in Manila, he added.
Mendez said the Philippine National Police will assist the NBI in collating the documents of complaints.
“We prepared already a pro forma complaint sheet so we could facilitate,” he said.
“We heard that an Aman executive was killed, but we do not know. Our efforts is still ongoing.”
Mendez said Amalilio is confirmed to be in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia.
“I cannot speak for the other agencies (regarding the communications with Malaysia),” he said.
“But this will be discussed on Monday (during a meeting) with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.”
The extradition with Malaysia is not within the NBI’s concern, Mendez said.
Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II said the government might use the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) to seek the Malaysian government’s assistance to bring back Amalilio.
Amalilio was last sighted in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia, he added.
Authorities have confirmed that the Amalilio has escaped to Sabah, Malaysia.
Roxas has ordered the Department of the Interior and Local Government to audit the finances of local governments in Pagadian City and other areas in Mindanao following reports that some local government officials had invested their Internal Revenue Allotment in the pyramiding scam.
“I have ordered DILG region and national to audit bank accounts of some LGUs from barangay, to municipal, cities and province where Aman Futures Group had its operation, in particular Zamboanga Sur and Lanao Sur,” he said.
Roxas said local governments will have to submit duplicate copies of bank statements, sworn signed certifications from their treasurers and DILG to ensure their money are intact.
“We will follow the thread of evidence wherever it may lead,” he said.
“There are about, right now, 8,000 registered complainants, estimate is 12,000.”
Mendez said the important thing is that they must have a warrant of arrest so they can do something about arresting the suspects.
“We are talking about cases filed but there is no warrant of arrest yet,” he said.
Mendez said victims from Lanao went to Kota Kinabalu and confirmed that Amalilio was there last Nov. 7.
“But we do not know what happened to their talks,” he said.
Mendez said Aman Futures Group is not related to the Jachob “Coco” Rasuman group, which has also perpetrated a multibillion-peso scam.
However, some victims of the Aman Group are also victims of the Rasuman group, he added.
Mendez said the two groups are not linked to one another.
“There is no link,” he said.
“In fact Rasuman said he is not the same as Amalilio. They (Rasuman) promised they would return the investment. I have no idea of the exact figure, it seems this is bigger (than Aman). Several victims, politicians were also victimized.
“They have the same modus operandi. But part of the remaining investment money of those victimized by Rasuman invested in Aman, and they were also victimized.
“The victims in Rasuman who invested in Aman were hoping that they would be able to recover their losses. But they also lost their money in Aman.”
The DOJ started preliminary investigation into the pyramiding scam of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc. yesterday.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano convened the special panel of 14 prosecutors tasked to handle some 8,000 complaints.
“We will try our best to meet that (one-week deadline of the President to finish the probe and possible secure an arrest warrant against the respondents),” he said.
Arellano said the DOJ’s resolution would be expeditious despite the number of complainants.
“That is why the secretary constituted this panel with eight members, precisely to divide the job and speed up the PI,” he said.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edna Valenzuela, panel chairman, said it would be hard to set a specific timeframe for the preliminary investigation since the complaints involve voluminous records.
However, they have orders to fast-track the probe, she added.
Arellano said the panel would consolidate the complaints and determine if probable cause exists to file the case in court.
Some of the complaints were already undergoing preliminary investigation in the Pagadian Prosecutor’s Office, he added.
Cagayan de Oro City Prosecutor Fidel Macauyag personally delivered to Arellano’s office the records of the Rasuman group. It involves some P300 million from 29 complainants in Cagayan de Oro City.
Rasuman’s firms allegedly duped victims, mostly businessmen, through the same Ponzi scheme that Aman had used.
‘SEC MUST ACT’
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must “do something” to prevent another financial scam.
“The SEC has not been proactive in educating the public via training, seminars on financial literacy,” he said. “It should be persistent and consistent. They have 100 percent use of their own earnings so where are they spending it?”
Salceda said the biggest financial scam in this country is the pre-need scam of CAP, Pacific and Prudential.
“And their owners raided the trust funds, and used new money to pay old maturing open value educational pre-need contracts just like the Ponzi scheme,” he said.
“ Same with Legacy using deposits as the instrument. No one has been prosecuted. So, there is no fear among the unscrupulous and there is no compensation for the injured.”
The SEC has confirmed that Aman Futures Group was registered only on July 22 this year.
Its incorporators and members of the board of directors are: Manuel Amalilio, Fernando Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Eduard Lim, William Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez, and Lurix Lopez.
Last Oct. 8, the SEC issued a cease and desist order against the firm’s operations. – With Edu Punay, Helen Flores, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Celso Amo