Sandiganbayan convicts 2 ex-Immigration officials, retired cop for plunder over P50-M extortion try

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2021 08:41 PM | Updated as of Jun 26 2021 03:30 AM

MANILA — The Sandiganbayan on Friday convicted for plunder 2 former Immigration officials and a retired cop over an alleged extortion attempt on a Chinese businessman in 2016, based on excerpts of 2 separate rulings.

The anti-graft court sentenced to reclusion perpetua or 40 years in prison former Bureau of Immigration commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles as well as retired policeman Wally Sombero for extorting P50 million from gambling tycoon Jack Lam.

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The amount was supposedly in exchange for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals caught illegally working in Fontana, Pampanga. 

The 3 were also found guilty of graft under section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019) and sentenced to 6 years, 1 day to 10 years in prison. They are perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

“The ill-gotten wealth accumulated, amassed or acquired by accused Argosino and Robles in the amount of Fifty Million Pesos (P50,000,000), now under the custody of the concerned government agencies, is hereby forfeited in favor of the State,” portions of the rulings said.

No copy of the full Sandiganbayan ruling has yet been released as of press time.

Sombero allegedly acted as middleman and handed over paper bags containing money to Argosino and Robles in a casino in Parañaque City. Argosino was accused of being the “main plunderer.”

Several CCTV clips were shown during a Senate hearing in January 2017 showing Sombero stuffing bundles of money on 3 paper bags, which he would later carry to a meeting with Argosino and Robles. 

The two then-deputy Immigration commisisoners were later seen carry the 3 paper bags with a third man later identified to be Robles’ brother.

In their defense, Argosino claimed they were conducting an investigation and decided to keep the money as "evidence" against Lam, with Robles taking some of the bags home for "security reasons." 

Of the P50 million, P2 million allegedly went to Sombero.

Argosino and Robles only turned over P30 million to then-Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and claimed that P18 million supposedly went to acting Immigration intelligence chief Charles Calima, Jr. 

The P18 million would later be turned over to the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) while the Ombudsman later cleared Calima. 

For his part, Sombero turned over the P2 million he received to the Ombudsman.

In total, the 3 eventually returned P49,999,000 or P1,000 short of P50M threshold for plunder, because P1,000 was supposedly missing from the P30 million the 2 ex-Immigration officials turned over to the DOJ.

But the Ombudsman went ahead with the plunder charge. Sandiganbayan justices later conducted an ocular inspection and found that the P30 million was intact, after all.

The former justice secretary, Aguirre, himself, got dragged in the Senate investigation after Sombero bared that Aguirre privately met with Jack Lam.

This was supposedly one of the reasons that led to Aguirre’s resignation as Justice secretary in April 2018, although he was later appointed as commissioner of the National Police Commission in January this year. 

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte fired Argosino and Robles in December 2016.

Both Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Duterte in San Beda College of Law’s Lex Talionis Fraternitas, Inc.