PHILIPPINES BRIBERY ROW RUMBLES ON (Update)
Casino mogul denies allegations that he attempted to bribe Justice Secretary.
Allegations by Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre that casino tycoon Jack Lam used ‘facilitator' Wally Sombero in an attempt to bribe him into protecting Lam interests have been hotly denied by Lam.
In a statement issued through his lawyer, Raymond Fortun, Lam claimed Friday that his client never spoke directly to Aguirre during a Nov. 26 meeting attended by the three men and an interpreter.
Fortun said Sombero did all the talking at the meeting, mostly one-on-one with Aguirre, and he alleged that they spoke in whispers, making it difficult for Lam's interpreter, Alex Yu to follow what was being discussed.
This unsatisfactory communications issue continued throughout much of the meeting, which Fortun says lasted only 10 minutes, and claimed to The Inquirer newspaper that:
“Whatever Mr. Wally Sombero told the justice secretary was a matter between the two of them. Mr. Lam had no reason to bribe anyone as his operations are legitimate.”
Fortun went on to distance Lam from Sombero, alleging that the two had first met only on the day preceding the meeting with the Justice Secretary.
One day prior to that, 1,316 Chinese allegedly illegally employed by an unidentified online gambling operator using Lam's Fontana premises had been arrested and detained by Philippines Immigration officials.
Lam had been referred to Sombero by a mutual acquaintance, Fortun said. Sombero's brief was to be "a bridge" in explaining to Aguirre that the casino tycoon's businesses were all legal.
“Whatever was added – and I am not saying Secretary Aguirre was lying – Jack Lam has nothing to do with it,” Fortun said. “He doesn’t know any other people in the government. He has no ninong (godfather) and he doesn’t need a ninong.”
As a facilitator, Sombero had prepared a profile of Lam's interests for presentation to the Justice Secretary, interpreter Alex Yu said, claiming that his services were not really needed during the meeting despite Fortun claims that Lam did not understand English.
Sombero, a former senior police officer, is turning out to be an interesting character in this developing story, and is described by The Inquirer as "…a flamboyant international poker player who goes by the moniker “The Dream” in gaming circuits (and is) reportedly the go-to troubleshooter of online gaming operators.”
Fortun also weighed in on claims by the Justice Secretary that Lam had tried to bribe Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo – a claim which Domingo has since confirmed. The lawyer said that Lam's businesses were legal and under license from the Cagayan Export Zone Authority, the only entity outside of Pagcor that could issue this special license.
He gave reporters a copy of Fontana’s deal with a sublessee, Next Games Outsourcing Inc., to run a business process outsourcing services, including “other information technology services related to the gaming industry” inside Lam’s Fontana casino complex.
Fortun said Lam wanted the government to respect his contract, which required him to give only 1 percent of his revenue compared to the 10 percent paid by other Pagcor casinos, and that was why Domingo was approached.
Finally, the lawyer denied that Lam was behind reported attempts to bribe certain Immigration officials for the release of Chinese nationals working illegally in the Fontana online gaming complex at Clarks Fired. Thye lawyer said that they worked for Fontana Technologies Innovations Center as call centre agents and were not involved in gambling activity per se.
Responding to the Lam denial, Justice Secretary Aguirre insisted that Lam was aware that Sombero attempted to bribe him at the meeting, saying:
“He must have heard Sombero asking me to be the padrino or taga-pagalaga of Jack Lam, which was not done in whispers when he asked me.” He added:
“Why did he not react to it immediately? Why the very belated reaction?”