Alleged tycoon middleman clears Justice Secretary of involvement in P50-million immigration bribery mess

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre is not involved in the P50-million corruption scandal at the Bureau of Immigration, the alleged middleman of a Chinese gambling tycoon said Tuesday.

"I have no knowledge of any connection or links that the [Justice] Secretary is involved in this extortion scandal," former Chief Superintendent Wally Sombero told reporters on his return to the Philippines.

Sombero, who was nearly cited for contempt by the Senate after he failed to attend three hearings investigating the immigration scandal, arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 at around 9 a.m. aboard a Philippine Airlines flight 119 from Vancouver, Canada.

In the earlier hearings, Aguirre testified to the Senate that he turned down from Sombero an offer of P100 million monthly to serve as a "protector" to Macau-based gambling tycoon Jack Lam.

Sombero denies bribery charges

But Sombero on Tuesday denied bribing Aguirre or the two former immigration bureau deputy commissioners Michael Robles and Al Argosino who were implicated in the bribery scandal.

"Basta ako walang bribery. Wala akong inoffer (For me there's no bribery. I did not offer anything.), Sombero said. "I have never been involved in any wrongdoing," he added.

Sombero has been tagged as Lam's liaison, who allegedly bribed Robles and Argosino with P50 million in exchange for the release of over 1,300 undocumented Chinese workers who were arrested from Lam's casino in Clark, Pampanga on November 24.

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Sombero also denied he was Lam's middleman, saying he does not even personally know the Chinese businessman.

"If anybody can prove that I am a middleman or I know Jack Lam, I don't need a hearing anymore, I will go straight to prison, to Muntinlupa right away" Sombero told reporters in his home in Quezon City.

Argosino and Robles said they received P50 million from Sombero, but that they only took the money as evidence in an investigation they were conducting on Lam.

They also accused Sombero of pocketing P2 million from the P50 million.

For his part, Sombero reiterated it was a case of extortion because it was Robles and Argosino who demanded money from him.

Asked what the money was for, he said he will answer this during the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee's hearing on Thursday, which he promised to attend.

Aguirre: I did not allow Sombero to leave

Sombero also denied bribing the supervisor and immigration officer on duty on January 17 when he left the Philippines despite an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order against him.

He said he presented to them his letter to Aguirre informing the latter of his intent to travel. The BI is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department.

"Less than an hour ako nakatayo du'n. Ako naman in good faith naman ako kasi alam kong babalik ako e (I was there for less than an hour. I was in good faith because I know I would come back)," Sombero said. He left the country to seek medical attention abroad.

Aguirre, in a chance interview with reporters, said he never issued an "allow departure order" (ADO) for Sombero.

"Pero wala siyang ADO kaya dapat pinigilan siya ng immigration officer. Ngayon kung bakit hindi siya pinigilan ng immigration hindi na kasalanan ng Secretary of Justice 'yan ("The immigration officer should have stopped him because he did not have an ADO. Now if the immigration officer did not stop him, that's not Justice Secretary's fault anymore.")," said Aguirre.

Sombero said his letter to Aguirre was not intended to ask his permission but only to inform him because it was an Immigration Lookout Bulletin Order (ILBO) that was issued and not a Hold Departure Order, which would prevent him from leaving the country. 

He said this was an "eye-opener" for the Senate to pass legislative measures on the proper implementation of an ILBO for immigration officers to follow.

This will be among the concerns Sombero will raise during the Senate hearing on Thursday, the former police official said.

Sombero added that he will not focus on the scandal rocking the Bureau of Immigration, but will testify on how the government can earn P300 billion (US$ 6.0 billion) of revenues annually from gambling. 

Sombero is a decorated police official who retired from the service in 2000. He is known for donating his cash rewards for his service to the Philippine National Police General Hospital. Sombero is also considered the "Godfather of Asian Poker," who goes by his poker name "The Dream."