INTERCEPTED BY ‘HIGHER UPS’ Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said deportation of Aman Futures head Manuel Amalilio was going smoothly until “higher ups” from Malaysia stopped it. NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said in a separate interview this is just a “temporary setback.” Video by Tetch Torres/INQUIRER.net
Malaysian authorities on Friday stopped the deportation to the Philippines of alleged Ponzi scheme operator Manuel Amalilio as he was about to board a plane to Manila with National Bureau of Investigation agents.
It was unclear why police in Kota Kinabalu stopped the deportation of Amalilio, owner of Aman Futures Group, a fraudulent investment company that swindled 15,000 investors who lost a total of P12 billion in the Visayas and Mindanao. But an Inquirer source who had knowledge of what happened in Kota Kinabalu said Amalilio’s relatives hired a lawyer who told Malaysian authorities that Amalilio was a Malaysian citizen.
Another source told the Inquirer that the premature announcement of Amalilio’s arrest allowed the fugitive to “pull strings” in Malaysia and stop his deportation.
“Some people [in Manila] were too loud about this. This should have been [kept] under wraps,” the well-placed source said. “Who wouldn’t pull strings if you were in a situation like [Amalilio’s]?”
The source said Amalilio was an “influential person” in Malaysia who managed to find a way to stop his flight back to Manila.
Amalilio is now in the custody of the Royal Malaysian Police, the source said.
“The Philippines may now have a hard time getting him back,” the source said.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia J. Eduardo Malaya declined to comment.
When asked whether Amalilio was a Filipino, Malaya said: “He has a Philippine passport. We operate on that basis.”
It was reported earlier that Malaysian authorities stopped Amalilio’s deportation because of faulty paperwork by Philippine officials.
NBI Director Nonnatus Rojas said, however, that the snafu had nothing to do with “insufficient papers.”
“Our team had all the papers required for the deportation and these were cleared by the Malaysian police,” Rojas said.
“[Amalilio] was turned over to us yesterday afternoon, everything went smoothly,” Rojas said.
“But at the last minute, he was not allowed to board the plane by the Malaysian police,” he said.
Amalilio was expected to arrive at Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 at 7:45 last night aboard a Cebu Pacific flight from Kota Kinabalu.
“We are shocked and disappointed at what happened,” Rojas said.
“We apologize to the victims, but this is only a temporary setback. We will not stop [until] Amalilio is brought [back] here [to] face his accusers,” Rojas said, referring to the thousands of investors who lost P12 billion in Amalilio’s Ponzi scheme.
Rojas said Amalilio was arrested by Malaysian police in Ranao District on Tuesday afternoon for carrying “fake Malaysian documents.”
He said the NBI team—composed of Minerva Retanal, Cesar Bacani, James Calleja and Peter Chan Lugay—carried all the papers required for the deportation proceedings, including a certified copy of his birth certificate, copy of his passport, and the warrant of arrest.
He said the NBI agents and Amalilio were already about to board the plane to Manila when they were stopped.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told reporters last night that Amalilio’s departure from Kota Kinabalu was stopped on orders from a Malaysian Royal Police Commission official.
“They (NBI team) were stopped by the police commissioner and the reason is not clear. They (NBI team) had no choice but to return,” De Lima said.
“We are trying to verify what is the reason; why at the very last minute they were prevented from boarding,” De Lima said.
She said the NBI team had been assured “up to the last minute” that there was “no more problem” about Amalilio’s departure.
Philippine Embassy officials, including the police attaché, had been assisting the NBI and directly coordinating with the Malaysian police, she said.
“[It was] purportedly on orders from ‘higher ups.’ As to exactly who are the ‘higher ups’ we still don’t know. In the next few hours, hopefully, we’ll know the real reason, and in the next few hours we will determine the next step or move to ensure that we will get Mr. Amalilio,” De Lima said.
The NBI team was scheduled to return last night and would be reporting to her, she added.
De Lima said she had sent a text message to President Aquino in Switzerland about what happened. She said the President had instructed her to inform him “the moment Amalilio lands on Philippine soil.”
De Lima said she had received no information that Amalilio had or would be contesting his deportation.
She insisted that Amalilio was a Filipino citizen and that he has a Philippine-issued birth certificate, passport and even NBI clearance.