Congress urged to probe gambling tycoon “protector”

Following the revelations that Chinese gambling tycoon, Jack Lam, had offered to pay bribes for the release of 1,316 Chinese nationals arrested in a gambling raid in the Philippines, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has urged Congress to look into the “ninong,” or protector.

Aguirre claims that a ninong allowed Lam to bring in illegal Chinese workers, run an unlicensed online gaming business and accumulate billions of pesos in unpaid royalties to the government from operations of his Fontana Leisure Park and Casino at Clark Freeport in Pampanga province.

The justice secretary was reportedly offered a bribe during a meeting with Lam and an intermediary at the Shangri-La hotel at the Fort. Wally Sombrero, a former police officer, told Secretary Aguirre that the Macau-based gaming tycoon was looking for a ninong in the Philippine government to protect his businesses, which include the Fort Ilocandia hotel and casino in Ilocos Norte province and that he, as justice secretary, would be an ideal ninong.

Aguirre ignored Sombrero’s bribe offer and told Lam, through his interpreters, that he was better off applying for a license, hiring local workers and paying off his dues to the government.

Aguirre said he could not file a case of bribery against Lam or Sombrero because he could not prove that Lam understood what was being said since he speaks no English or Filipino.

He reckoned that Lam was willing to shell out at least P100 million a month for a powerful ninong in the government.

Philippine Amusement & Gaming Corporation chair Andrea Domingo confirmed Aguirre’s claim that she had also been offered a bribe of 1 percent of casino earnings so that Fontana could continue its online gaming operations while applying for a license.

“I cannot contradict Secretary (Aguirre),” Domingo said. “What I can confirm is that  ‘yes,’ I am requiring Lam to pay the government 10 percent of his casino take, like the rest of the casinos in Clark do, instead of the 1 percent he currently pays based [on] a vague provision in his contract with Pagcor made many, many years ago,” she told the Inquirer on Thursday.

Aguirre has asked the Department of Tourism and government officials in Pampanga to file criminal charges against Lam to force him to pay what he owed the government from his lucrative business.

Due to fears that Lam has connections in the Philippine National Police and National Bureau of Investigation, Aguirre said he deliberately kept out the NBI and asked PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa to send a Special Action Force contingent to conduct the raid on Fontana on Nov. 24. “There are a lot of syndicates operating in BI,” he said.

Aguirre said at least 3,000 illegal Chinese nationals should have been caught in the raid but less than half were detained. 70 of the arrested Chinese reportedly jumped over the fence at 3 in the morning. Aguirre has ordered a probe of BI officials responsible.