Aguirre: Gambling tycoon tried to bribe me

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 01 2016 11:23 AM | Updated as of Dec 01 2016 04:40 PM

A Cabinet official on Thursday accused gambling tycoon Jack Lam of offering a huge bribe for the release of over 1,300 allegedly undocumented Chinese workers who were working in an illegal online casino in Pampanga.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II claimed the Macau-based Lam tried to pay off Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chair Andrea Domingo and Immigration officials with millions of pesos for the release of the illegal workers.

He said Lam, with the help of two interpreters and former police official Wally Sombero, admitted that his casino in Clark Freeport has no license to operate from Pagcor. The admission was allegedly made during a meeting at a hotel in Bonifacio Global City.

"Inadmit nila na wala silang kahit isang license o franchise coming from Pagcor. In other words, they admitted that they were operating illegally," he told radio DZMM.

"Ang gusto nilang mangyari e mag-a-apply sila sa Pagcor ng license, but in the meantime, kung pwedeng i-release muna [ang mga nahuling Chinese]. Ang sinabi ko sa kanila, hindi pwede iyun."

He said Lam then allegedly tried to bribe him indirectly to be his "ninong" (godfather) to protect his gaming operations.

"Pag milyun-milyon na, hindi ka naman direktang susuhulan niyan. Ganito ang pagkasabi sa akin ni General Sombero, dini-describe sa aking pinakamayaman si Jack Lam, matagal na siyang walang ninong, walang nag-aalaga sa kanya," Aguirre said.

"Baka naman ang Secretary of Justice ang maaaring mag-alaga sa kanya... Kung hindi pagsusuhol iyan, I don't know what is."

He insisted, "Wala akong pinagbigyan sa kanila."

However, in a press briefing on Thursday, Aguirre clarified that Lam was not directly involved in online gaming operations and was simply leasing his villas to the operators.

He added that what Lam did cannot be considered as an overt act of bribery and that he cannot be bribed.

"I just stood up and walked away... I would not say that is already an overt act pasakalye pa lang, parinig pa lang, patikim pa lang, di pa maaaring overt act of bribey yun," he said.

"I know myself I could not be bribed."

Last week, police arrested over 1,000 Chinese employees working without proper documentation at the online gaming office of the Information Technology Innovation Center in Clark, Pampanga. A TV Patrol report said three Chinese nationals broke their ankles after jumping out of a second story window while trying to escape arrest.

P70 MILLION FOR BIR

Meanwhile, the justice chief said Lam tried to buy the release of his illegal workers from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) with P70 million.

"Immediately after our meeting, nalaman ko na nagpapa-release na sila immediately ng P70 million para iyung mga principal arrested, iyung talagang matataas, e ma-release," he claimed.

Although the BI rejected the offer, Aguirre said a "syndicate" bolted out over 70 of Lam's workers Thursday morning.

"Tumitibay rin ang Bureau of Immigration. But only today, this morning, nagpatakas ang sindikato ng mga Chinese, about 70 plus of them," he said.

Police have captured majority of the escapees, but 27 illegal aliens still remain at-large, the Justice Secretary said.

He added that the Pampanga local government should conduct its own probe in the illegal gambling operations in the province.

ONE PERCENT CUT FOR PAGCOR HEAD

On Sunday, Lam also tried to bribe Pagcor's Domingo with one percent of his earnings while he was applying for a license, Aguirre claimed.

Aguirre said that according to Domingo, she rejected Lam's offer and told him to pay the government the full 10-percent cut from his casino earnings.

He said he will order an investigation into other officials who may have accepted grease money from Lam.

The detention of Lam's employees marked the government's biggest such round-up of Chinese nationals in the country.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had requested that the Philippines "appropriately make arrangements" for those who had been detained and quickly release individuals who have "legal identification".

Online gambling is not illegal in the Philippines, but it is subject to permitting and zoning regulations.

-- With a report from Reuters