FORMER police officer Wenceslao “Wally” Sombero, the supposed middleman of Macau-based gaming tycoon Jack Lam, yesterday accused former Immigration Associate Commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles of demanding P100 million in exchange for the release of 1,316 illegal Chinese found working in Lam’s casino.
Sombero, appearing for the first time at the Blue Ribbon committee hearing on the alleged P50-million bribery/extortion scandal that rocked the Bureau of Immigration, told senators that Argosino made the demand after his meeting with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II at Shangri-La Bonifacio Global City on Nov. 26, 2016.
Also present in the meeting with Aguirre were Argosino, Lam, and two interpreters, Alex Yu and Norman Ng.
Sombero said it was Argosino who approached him and told him there were offers in exchange for help to facilitate the release of the Chinese workers They, however, turned them down.
He said Argosino asked him how much would be needed for the release of the Chinese workers. Sombero said he had no idea. It was that time when Argosino asked if he could produce P100 million. The amount, he said, was for the release of all the arrested Chinese.
Sombero said he discussed Argosino’s request with Ng and Yu, who are Lam’s business associates.
He said he was instructed to put up P50 million in “goodwill money” on the night of November 26, with the balance to be delivered the next day, Sunday.
He claimed he chose the City of Dreams as the meeting place, knowing the transactions would be documented by CCTV cameras.
Upon arriving at the City of Dreams, he told Yu about the scheduled meeting with the two BI officials.
When Yu asked for the release of a couple of Chinese workers because of their worsening condition, Robles and Argosino refused and insisted that the money be produced first.
He said he was then instructed by Yu to get the P20 million at the VIP Casino of the City of Dreams and turn it over to Argosino and Robles. They were forced to produce P30 million more upon the insistence of the two BI officials, he added.
When he relayed the information to Lam’s business partner, Charlie “Atong” Ang, Sombero said Ang advised him to discontinue his meetings with the two BI officials because “lokohan na ito (this is rubbish.)”
Sombero insisted that what happened on November 26 and 27 at the City of Dreams was not extortion or bribery but a “pay-off.”
Sombero, however, said the P50 million did not come from Lam directly but from other online gambling service providers — Jimei, Bota Club and Lucky Titanium.
It was later learned that Jimei was owned by Lam, while Lucky Titanium was being operated by Ang.
Yu and Ng, who were also present in the hearing, said they thought the money would be used to bail out the arrested Chinese since they were dealing with BI officials.
Blue Ribbon committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon said Lam should return to the country if he wants to clear his name and continue his business here.
Gordon, appearing from an almost nine-hour hearing, said there is a clear case of extortion against Lam.
“If he (Lam) wants to clear his name and continue his business here, he should come and testify,” Gordon said.
But Aguirre said Lam has to face pending cases filed against him by Argosino and Robles for allegedly bribing the two BI commissioners.
Ang said Lam has to be assured that he would be treated fairly if the Senate wants him to testify.
Aguirre also said President Duterte is willing to allow Lam back to the country if he pays his back taxes and other liabilities to the government. The justice secretary said Lam should regularize his gaming operation with PAGCOR.