Ex-BI men sued for plunder, graft over P50-M extortion try

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2018 04:30 PM | Updated as of Mar 23 2018 05:33 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Office of the Ombudsman on Friday filed criminal cases against 2 former Immigration officials who supposedly extorted P50 million from a businessman in exchange for the release of Chinese nationals found illegally working in the Philippines. 

Former Bureau of Immigration (BI) deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles were slapped with plunder, direct bribery, and graft cases at the Sandiganbayan for allegedly extorting money from Chinese businessman Jack Lam.

They are also accused of violating Presidential Decree No. 46, or the decree punishing public officials for receiving gifts from private individuals.

Charged along with them is retired policeman Wenceslao "Wally" Sombero Jr., who allegedly acted as a conspirator and middleman. 

An investigation conducted by the Office of the Ombudsman showed that Argosino and Robles received P50 million from Lam in a deal allegedly facilitated by Sombero in exchange for the release of 1,316 arrested Chinese nationals working for the businessman and were found violating Philippine immigration laws at Fontana, Pampanga.

The Ombudsman denied the motion for reconsideration filed by the 3 men.

The anti-graft body also noted that Argosino is the main plunderer in the extortion case because he originally tried to extort P100 million, and took ownership of the P50 million bribe money after asking for Robles’ company and help in carrying the paper bags filled with cash.

Argosino and Robles in 2016 returned the alleged bribe money, but it was short of P1,000. Under the law, public officers who amass at least P50 million in ill-gotten wealth are liable for plunder. 

In total, the two supposedly returned P49,999,000. Of this amount, P29,999,000 is in the custody of the Department of Justice, P18 million with the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, and P2 million with the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman meanwhile cleared former Immigration intelligence officer Charles Calima. He was initially included in the investigation and finding of probable cause in the extortion case.

Calima's motion for reconsideration was granted by the Ombudsman, which noted the testimony of Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente.

“This validates Calima’s claim that his actions were pursuant to the counter-intelligence operations that he was conducting, as duly authorized, and that his receipt of the said P18 million was merely for the purpose of gathering evidence against Argosino and Robles,” the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman has recommended a P60,000 bail each for Argosino, Robles, and Sombero for the graft, direct bribery and violation of PD 46 charges.

Their plunder cases are, however, non-bailable.

Lam, meanwhile, is also facing one count of violation of PD 46. The Ombudsman recommended bail of P10,000.