MANILA—After failing to attend the past three Senate panel inquiries into the alleged Php 50-million bribery scandal involving Bureau of Immigration (BI) officials, retired Police Senior Supt. Wally Sombero, alleged middleman of gaming tycoon Jack Lam, finally showed up on its fourth hearing on Thursday.
Sombero began his testimony by apologizing to the Senate and the public for not attending the previous hearings and again cited health reasons that prevented him from doing so.
Sombero’s lawyer earlier said that his client was supposed to return to Manila last Feb. 7 to attend the Senate probe but claimed he was prevented by airplane staff because of health reasons.
Airplane staff advised him to see a cardiologist, noting that he was suffering from “sweating and shortness of breath.” He, however, has yet to present the Senate with a copy of his medical certificate.
The former cop also explained that the alleged “bribe” to BI officials was merely a business decision of the Lam’s group and that the money did not come from Lam himself but service providers.
To recall, former BI associate commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles claimed that Sombero gave them paper bags which contained millions of pesos last Nov. 27 in the City of Dreams in exchange for the release of over 1,000 Chinese workers who were working in the country illegally.
Lam owns an online casino called Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga, which employed around 1,316 Chinese nationals working without permits. The workers were later arrested.
“It was a business decision on the part of the Jack Lam group to agree on that amount. Sa aking palagay, hindi kay Mr. Jack Lam galing ang pera, yun ay galing sa service providers sa loob ng Fontana (In my opinion, the money did not come from Mr. Jack Lam but from service providers inside Fontana),” Sombero said.
60 not 50
Tycoon Charlie “Atong” Ang, Lam’s business partner also revealed that a total of Php 60 million was paid for the release of the illegal Chinese workers and not Php 50 million as earlier disclosed by the BI officials.
Ang, like Sombero, also appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee for the first time.
He claimed that Argosino and Robles demanded Php 100 million but Sombero said that it was too large an amount.
Lam’s representative Alex Yu, said he gave Sombero the additional Php 10 million on Nov 26, a day before he met Argosino and Robles.
Sombero did not deny this and noted that it was going to be given to former immigration officials as part of the additional Php 50 balance but he later changed his mind and instead kept the Php 10 million.
Most senators, meanwhile, seemed to have lost patience over contradicting testimonies of Sombero and Ang and Argosino and Robles.
It was Sen. Francis Escudero who was questioning when Sombero revealed that the alleged bribe was actually a payoff.
Senator-boxer Manny Pacquiao, who would often quote Bible verses, tried to get Argosino and Robles to admit accepting the bribe and even scolded them about “not telling the truth.
For her part, Sen. Risa Hontiveros cited negligence on the part of the BI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in allowing Sombero to leave the country despite immigration lookout bulletin order (ILBO).
Gordon, chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee, also lost patience and raised his voice on Sombero saying that he was bordering on contempt for his defensive testimony.