It was the chief minister of Sabah no less who stopped the repatriation to the Philippines of fugitive Manuel Amalilio, the alleged ringleader of the P12-billion Ponzi scheme that victimized 15,000 Filipinos, according to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas.
“The chief minister of Sabah gave the order not to let Amalilio get on the plane,” Roxas told a press briefing in Camp Crame Saturday.
The chief minister is the head of state of Sabah, a state in East Malaysia that is part of the Malaysian federation. The post is currently held by Musa Aman, who is reportedly an older brother of Malaysian foreign minister Anifah Aman.
(The Philippines continues to lay claim to Sabah, or North Borneo, by virtue of the hereditary Sultans of Sulu’s historic ownership of North Borneo, which was leased to the British colonizers of what is now Malaysia in the late 19th century. In 1963, North Borneo became part of the Malaysian federation under its present name.)
Roxas explained that under Malaysia’s federal system of government, the chief minister of Sabah is “more powerful than a governor.”
He said the team of lawmen from the Philippines were about to board the plane for Manila on Friday, following the turnover of Amalilio by the Malaysian police, when “senior representatives of the Malaysian police approached them and told them that there were problems with the documents.”
“It was that vague. It’s not clear why Malaysian authorities stopped Amalilio from leaving,” Roxas said.
“Our representatives don’t have police powers there. They were coordinating… they were just there to receive Mr. Amalilio to transport him back here,” he said.
Roxas said the Philippine team had all the documents with them to prove that Amalilio was a “Filipino citizen, with a Filipino identity,” as he has a Philippine passport and birth certificate.
Filipinos ordered out
A source from the Philippine team said that tension rose at Kota Kinabalu International Airport on Friday when a man who was a supposedly high-ranking Malaysian police official barged into the room where the Philippine delegation, with Amalilio in custody, were waiting for their flight and ordered the Filipinos to get out.
The team leader, Cesar Bacani of the National Bureau of Investigation, tried to reason with the unidentified Malaysian police official, insisting that the Philippine lawmen already had custody of Amalilio after he was turned over to them by local authorities.
“But the Malaysian, in a raised voice, insisted we could not have Amalilio. At the same time, another official, who was also inside the room, ordered us to leave the room where Amalilio was being detained,” the source said.
“We were constrained to board the plane and leave Amalilio behind,” the source said.
Amalilio, the founder of the Aman Futures group that allegedly defrauded thousands of investors in the Visayas and Mindanao for an estimated P12 billion in a fraudulent investment scam, was arrested by Malaysian police in Sabah on Tuesday for allegedly carrying “fake Malaysian documents.”
The government, which holds that Amalilio is a Filipino citizen, has sought his extradition to face several syndicated estafa cases here.
“Under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) [with Malaysia], we are asking that he (Amalilio) be deported back to the Philippines so that he can be made accountable for the crimes he committed here,” Roxas said.
No treaty with Malaysia
Without an extradition treaty with Malaysia, Amalilio’s deportation to the Philippines was based solely on the MLAT, Roxas said. The Bureau of Immigration’s website, however, states that the Philippines has no such treaty with Malaysia.
To suggestions that the Philippine team may have bungled the operation, Roxas said: “We had complete coordination [with the Malaysian police]. How could they have reached the airport if they were not allowed and given assistance by the Royal Malaysian Police? He (Amalilio) was already in the custody of the Philippine team.”
The source said that Amalilio was turned over to the Philippine lawmen by the Malaysian police at 4 p.m. on Friday, together with his plane ticket and boarding pass.
“Seat arrangements in the plane had also been laid out to ensure the security of the subject,” the source said.
He said the issue of Amalilio’s citizenship never came up during their coordination with the Malaysian local authorities for the deportation of Amalilio.
“We are working on the basis that he is a Filipino and we have all the documents to prove his Filipino citizenship,” the source said.
Plane arrived late
The source also said that they were not able to leave on time because the Cebu Pacific plane arrived late.
The Philippine team was supposed to leave the Kota Kinabalu airport with their prisoner at 5:50 p.m. and expected to arrive in Manila at 7:45 p.m. on Friday.
According to a source in Kota Kinabalu, Amalilio remains in the custody of the Malaysian police and is now detained at the Karamunsing district of the state capital.
The source also said that Amalilio was related to a top-ranked official in Sabah state.
Roxas assured the victims of the alleged Amalilio scam that the government would do everything within its legal and diplomatic power to bring Amalilio back to the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Saturday ordered the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia to find out why Malaysian local authorities stopped the deportation of Amalilio.
Philippine diplomats in Kuala Lumpur were told to get to the bottom of the incident and ensure Amalilio’s return to Manila to face his alleged victims, said Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, the DFA spokesperson.
In Davos, Switzerland, President Aquino expressed confidence that Amalilio could be repatriated soon to face trial.
Aquino warns vs scams
Speaking to visiting Philippine media at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting, Mr. Aquino appealed to the Filipino public to guard against investment opportunities that were too good to be true.
Mr. Aquino said the NBI had gone to Malaysia to repatriate Amalilio but that “some technical issues” cropped up. The President said he was still waiting for the official report on the aborted deportation.
“But we expect him to be brought back to the Philippines and to face trial in the Philippines—and with the evidence that’s presented—to be convicted and sent to jail, and that will serve, hopefully, as a deterrent to others,”
Mr. Aquino said.
The President reminded Filipinos not to fall prey to alleged investments promising outrageous returns.
“When I was young, I was taught that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t,” Mr. Aquino said. With reports from Doris Dumlao and Tarra Quismundo
First posted 9:01 pm | Saturday, January 26th, 2013