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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Another Pagcor controversy

Will this Pagcor controversy be investigated by the AMLC and the SC?

Still smarting from the recent P3-million controversy over its new logo, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) now finds itself in the eye of another storm.

This time, Pagcor faces another issue involving the P75-million cash performance bond posted by an e-sabong firm that’s said to have mysteriously vanished into thin air.

But not really, as it’s believed to have been illegally released to an unauthorized individual.

What compounds the situation is the alleged illegal release of the check to this individual appeared to have been done in connivance with some officials and employees of the state gaming agency.

Joaquin Sy, chairman of the board and chief finance officer of Kamura Highlands Gaming and Holdings Inc., earlier filed a case of malversation of public funds, qualified theft and falsification of private and commercial documents against Pagcor Chairman Alejandro Tengco and several others, including former Pagcor chief Andrea Domingo, before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Also charged were Tengco’s chief of staff Dianne Erica Jogno and former board members Gabriel Claudio, Carmen Pedrosa, Reynaldo Concordia and James Patrick Bondoc.

The other respondents are Jewel Castro who allegedly received and encashed the P75-M check without Sy’s or the Kamura Board’s consent.

Tengco and Jogno were also accused of obstruction of justice for “their deliberate concealment of the crimes and unjustified refusal to respond to the letters of the complainant within the period prescribed (by law),” the complaint read.

Sy claimed that he personally posted the bond at Pagcor’s office in Malate, Manila last year through two managers’ checks payable to the gaming regulator and drawn from his personal bank accounts. In return, he said, PAGCOR issued official receipts and other documents proving the posting of a bond by the corporation. However, barely a few weeks after posting the performance bond, then president Rodrigo Duterte ordered e-sabong operations stopped.

This prompted Sy to write to Domingo, seeking the withdrawal of the bond, but he did not receive a response.

Sy said he followed up his request several times until July 10 this year, but to no avail.

What he received was verbal confirmation from the gaming agency’s Assistant Vice President for Finance Lolita Gonzales 1 that a check worth P75 million had been issued in September last year in favor of Castro and was immediately encashed thereafter.

Government accounting procedures strictly require that the original copy of the receipts must be surrendered before the withdrawal of the bond is allowed.

The alleged illegal release of the cash performance bond to Castro was made, according to Gonzales, during the incumbency of Domingo and the old board sometime in September 2022, Sy said in the complaint.

Pagcor chief Al Tengco has denied any wrongdoing, saying the disappearance of the said funds occurred during the previous leadership and decried his inclusion in the graft raps.

But he vowed to unmask the persons involved in the controversy.

The inclusion of Tengco in the charge sheet is not surprising considering that by his own admission, his office received several letter requests/inquiries from the victim after he assumed office in August 2022.

Given this, perhaps it’s about time for the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to step into the controversy.

This is AMLC’s chance to enforce 22-year-old Anti-Money Laundering Act.

After all, based on Pagcor’s own press release, Tengco has already virtually admitted that a Land Bank check in the amount of P75 million that represented the e-sabong firm’s cash bond was already released to Jewel Castro.

Certainly, what happened was a criminal offense that falls within the mandate of the AMLC.

AMLA, and its subsequent amendatory laws, punishes not only those persons found guilty of money laundering “but also those persons who have knowledge of those illegal transactions but failed to report the same with the AMLC.”

In the issue at hand, officials of Pagcor knew for a fact that such act of encashment or deposit of said huge amount by an individual can already be considered a suspicious transaction.

Pagcor admitted that it issued a Land Bank check amounting to P75 million to a certain Jewel Castro sometime in July 2022 which check was immediately either deposited or encashed thereafter.

Thus, if the said check was encashed, Land Bank was under obligation to report the said transaction to AMLC, just the same that if the said check was deposited in Castro’s bank account, said depository bank is duty-bound to report the same to the council.

Not only that, since Pagcor maintains a battery of lawyers and legal consultants, it is safe to say that the release of the P75-M check was done with their consent and approval.

Hence, these lawyers may also be due for investigation under the newly-approved Administrative Matter 22-09-01 SC, which took effect on May 29, 2023. This SC Circular mandates 2 lawyers as part of their ethical duty to report suspicious transactions related to AMLA laws.

Will this Pagcor controversy be investigated by the AMLC and the SC? Let’s wait and see what happens next.


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