The government will employ diplomacy to bring back to the Philippines fugitive Manuel Amalilio, alleged brains of the Ponzi scheme that last year duped some 15,000 Filipinos of P12 billion, to face prosecution, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Sunday.
It has emerged that complaints of Malaysian scam victims in Kota Kinabalu—not Amalilio’s possible ties with Sabah’s chief minister—prompted Malaysian police to stop Amalilio’s repatriation to Manila from Kota Kinabalu on Friday night, De Lima said.
“It’s more of diplomacy,” she told the Inquirer when asked if the options included diplomacy or invoking the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).
“Steps are being undertaken. We’re exerting efforts to bring him back. But we can’t be disclosing what these steps are to ensure that, this time, his repatriation pushes through,” she later told reporters in an ambush interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
When pressed for details of the diplomatic tack, De Lima pointed to a “police-to-police cooperation” of both countries. She said it was the cooperation of the Malaysian police that led to Amalilio’s arrest in the first place.
“It has always been through mutual police cooperation,” she said. “We’re working on it so that this time it pushes through.”
Amalilio is the founder of Aman Futures group that defrauded thousands of investors in the Visayas and Mindanao in a fraudulent investment scam.
A Cabinet official, who asked not to be named, said the government would “rely on the goodwill” of the Malaysian government to facilitate the repatriation of Amalilio to the Philippines.
On his arrival from his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Aquino called De Lima to a meeting with Cabinet officials at the arrival lounge of Naia Terminal 2.
Malaysian police arrested Amalilio in Sabah on Jan. 22 for allegedly carrying “fake Malaysian documents.” They turned him over to a team of Filipino lawmen on Friday.
While the agents from the National Bureau of Investigation were waiting to board the plane for Manila, senior representatives of the Malaysian police turned up to say there were problems with the documents.
The agents tried to reason out but were instead compelled to take the flight without Amalilio.
Scam victims in Kota
Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II said that Sabah’s chief minister, Musa Aman, gave the order for Amalilio not to board the plane.
Roxas said the government would ask for Amalilio’s deportation through the MLAT.
De Lima said Amalilio’s repatriation was stopped because the Malaysian police decided to address the complaints of scam victims in Kota Kinabalu.
“Some local complainants in Kota Kinabalu turned up, so that has to be addressed first. They need to attend to those. They were going to process or evaluate the complaints that suddenly cropped up,” she said. “Allegedly they were also victims.”
De Lima said reports that Amalilio’s reported ties with the Sabah minister had saved him from repatriation could not be validated.
“We can’t validate that,” she said when asked if Amalilio was being protected by the Sabah chief minister.
“Of course, there was talk about that but we’re very careful in verifying that or in confirming that. At this point, I’m not prepared to verify that. For now, we don’t know if it’s in fact upon orders of the chief minister. That is still being validated.”
De Lima said reports that Amalilio was carrying fake travel documents or that he was a Malaysian were “nonissues.”
She said the NBI agents would fly back to Malaysia once Amalilio’s repatriation issues had been properly ironed out.
Apart from the fact that it came at the last minute, the reason behind the order to stop Amalilio’s repatriation was “unclear” to the NBI agents, De Lima said.
“It has nothing to do with the documents or with his citizenship because the Malaysian police themselves knew that we had the documents,” De Lima said before she was called by the President to the meeting.
In an interview over government-run radio, Abigail Valte, deputy presidential spokesperson, said the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and the NBI were “continuing to work” with their Malaysian counterparts to bring Amalilio back to Manila.
“All our papers were complete. Documents were shown to prove that Amalilio is a Filipino citizen and it was explained why he had to be repatriated to the Philippines,” Valte said. “Maybe, it’s just a matter of time… . We will keep coordinating to bring Amalilio back here.”