MANILA (UPDATE) - The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered the filing of plunder charges against former Bureau of Immigration Deputy Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles for supposedly extorting P50 million from businessman Jack Lam for the release of Chinese nationals found illegally working in the Philippines.
Also named respondent in the plunder case is Asian Gaming Service Providers Association President Wenceslao Sombero Jr., who allegedly facilitated the handover of the cash.
The Ombudsman said Argosino and Robles used their official functions as BI deputy commissioners in extorting money, while Sombero acted as a conspirator and middleman.
It can be recalled that Argosino and Robles last year 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 is liable for committing plunder.
In total, the two only returned P49,999,000: 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 said that while the returned cash was short by P1,000 or below the P50-million threshold, Argosino and Robles can still be charged with plunder since they failed to controvert with convincing evidence the claims of Lam's associates Norman Ng and Alex Yu that they were given a P50-million bribe.
Argosino, Robles, and Sombero also face 1 count each for Direct Bribery and violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
They will also be charged with 2 counts of violations of Presidential Decree No. 46, which makes it "punishable for public officials and employees to receive, and for private persons to give, gifts on any occasion."
In a statement, Sombero said he was only doing his responsibilities as head of the Asian Gaming organization when got involved in talks between the two former immigration officers and Lam's group.
"I was only requested to assist and help those arrested Chinese (business process outsourcing) agents with legit(imate) working visa in my capacity as head of Asian Gaming organization. It was very unfortunate that I was indicted," he said.
Former BI Intelligence Chief Charles Calima Jr. meanwhile faces 1 count for direct bribery and another for graft, while Lam will be charged with 1 count of the violation of PD 46 for allegedly giving cash to the BI officials.
The bribery controversy triggered a Senate investigation. --With a report from Niko Baua,ABS-CBN News