TAGAYTAY CITY—President Aquino on Thursday vowed to bring the key players in a P12-billion pyramid scam to the “bar of justice” as the number of victims in the Visayas and Mindanao rose.
The President said the government would invoke the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to bring Manuel Amalilio, founder of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc., back to the country to face investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Mr. Aquino said the National Bureau of Investigation had begun coordinating with Malaysian authorities to take custody of Amalilio, who was confirmed to have fled to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
“We will not stop. There should be justice,” the President told reporters at the Taal Vista Hotel where he spoke at the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas management conference. “We need to bring these people to the bar of justice; that’s why there’s a manhunt for all those involved.”
The MLAT is a mechanism in the Asean that the Philippines could invoke in Amalilio’s case, according to the President.
Amalilio, whose Malaysian name is Mohammad Suffian Saaid, has reportedly fled to Sabah with which the Philippines has no extradition treaty.
Other Aman Futures executives facing charges are Fernando “Nonoy” Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Edward Lim, William Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez and Lurix Lopez.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has formed a panel of prosecutors to help some victims file cases of syndicated estafa, a nonbailable offense, against the operators of Aman Futures before the end of the year.
De Lima has also ordered a manhunt for the officials of the Pasay City-based firm.
Its thousands of victims include local politicians, police and military personnel, government employees, market vendors, farmers, drivers, retired employees and overseas workers.
The President said the NBI, Department of Trade and Industry, and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) warned people of the pyramid scam as early as July, but to no avail.
“As early as June or July, the DTI came out with an announcement warning against this pyramid scam; the SEC in August,” he said. “When the NBI opened its investigation, the investors showed up to say it was a ‘kill-joy.’ Why are they [NBI] putting a stop to this opportunity to earn big?”
“That’s why I want to stress that government agencies had warned against it before it got worse,” he continued, pointing out that investors of a similar pyramid scheme in Marawi later moved over to Aman Futures.
De Lima said the DOJ was determining whether a group, reportedly engaged in a pyramid scam in Lanao province, was part of Aman Futures.
She noted that the “modus operandi” of the Koko Rasoman group and Aman Futures were related.
The group is said to be operated by a son of a former public works undersecretary.
The President advised the public to cooperate with the authorities to prevent such scams.
Citing reports reaching him, he said that some 8,000 people had filed complaints about their losses, and that the number of complainants sharply rose in October.
“No one wanted to cooperate as early as July. It’s a pity because we could have arrested all of them in July. The cases did not prosper because of the absence of witnesses; the ones who could provide the paper trail, and submit an affidavit to build up a strong case,” he said.
Bigger than Legacy
At a news conference, De Lima said Aman Futures’ investment scheme could be the biggest scam the country had seen so far.
Asked whether the pyramid scam perpetrated by Aman Futures was bigger than that of the Legacy Group of the late Celso de los Angeles, De Lima said “it looks like it” the way things were being reported.
NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas, who attended the news conference, said his office was already coordinating with the Malaysian embassy on where Amalilio was should a warrant for the latter’s arrest be issued. Rojas said the Philippine government would have Amalilio deported.
Even if Amalilio leaves Malaysia, Rojas said the NBI “will follow him wherever he is” with the help of counterparts in other countries.
Aman agents, subagents
Rojas said the 20 to 30 executives, agents and subagents of Aman Futures were still in the country and once their arrest warrants were issued, “we will take them.”
Noting that her department had been stopped by a court ruling from issuing hold-departure orders, De Lima said she could issue only “Lookout Bulletin Orders” for the executives, agents and subagents, many of whom, she noted, were in hiding.
Concerned about the “magnitude” of the problem and the “high emotional state and volatile situation,” the President wanted the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Department of Finance (DOF) to be involved in going after the operators, the justice secretary said.
De Lima said the two agencies plus the DOJ would be part of a national task force that Mr. Aquino wanted to be created to help in building the case against the operators of Aman Futures and thus, bring justice to the victims of the scam.
The DOJ will be responsible for the investigation and prosecution through the NBI; the DILG will look into the angle of local officials who may have invested in the scam while the DOF will look into the scam itself with the help of the Securities Exchange Commission and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, she said.
“There are investors who would want to take the law in their hands and we want to avoid that,” De Lima said.
Because it would not be advisable for the prosecution of the cases to happen in the provinces given the high emotional state of the victims.
De Lima said she had asked Prosecutor General Claro Arellano to transfer the cases to Manila so that they could be handled by the 14-member special panel of prosecutors she had created.
The justice secretary said she had told Arellano to submit by today the complaints in Pagadian City now under preliminary investigation in Manila so that their investigation could continue in the capital.
“We can target the immediate filing of criminal cases in court and the arrest warrants can be issued,” she said.
De Lima said the President wanted a consolidated report on the cases. “This is a very serious undertaking and a serious assignment for us directly from the President,” she said.