MANILA, Philippines-The Philippine government has put on hold its talks with Malaysia over its bid to have Manuel Amalilio, the man allegedly behind a P12-billion Ponzi scam, extradited due to the ongoing conflict in Sabah.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday admitted that the conflict in Sabah, which ensued after followers of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III landed in what they claimed was their homeland, had affected the government’s bid to seek the immediate extradition of Amalilio.
Despite the setback, the Department of Justice (DOJ) started Monday the process of prosecuting Amalilio, his agents and co-conspirators in the country.
The DOJ filed a syndicated estafa complaint against Pagadian City Mayor Samuel Co in the Iligan City Regional Trial Court, accusing the mayor of acting as an “agent” for Amalilio’s Aman Futures Group Philippines.
Also charged were 12 others, including Amalilio and his wife, Abigail Pendulas.
Amalilio, who fled to Malaysia after his investment scam unraveled, is currently serving a two-year sentence in Kota Kinabalu after he was convicted by a Malaysian court for possessing a fake Philippine passport.
The Philippine court case against Amalilio et al. was filed on the recommendation of the special panel of prosecutors at the DOJ, which found probable cause to indict the 12 respondents.
In its Feb. 26 resolution, a special DOJ panel recommended the filing of sydicated estafa charges against Co, Amalilio, Pendulas as well as Aman’s directors Fernando Luna, Leila Lim Gan, Eduard Lim, Wilanie Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez and Lurix Lopez, and investors Jason de los Reyes, Jerome Sanchez and Oliver Dequito.
4-percent tax on investments
The DOJ panel indicted Co after the mayor was found to have entered into an agreement with Aman wherein Pagadian City would impose a four-percent tax on every investment made in the company.
The panel said that because of this agreement, the complainants were made to believe that Aman was a legitimate business and decided to invest in the company.
“This is one of the important and telling circumstances which led the panel to believe that by all indications, Mayor Co was not only an investor but acted as an agent,” De Lima told reporters.
The DOJ panel also cited the affidavit of Gan, an Aman board member, who said the company had issued a certification on Aug. 25, 2012, declaring Co as an “authorized agent of Aman in online futures trading.”
“That respondent Co, using his public office, offered C3, a public building owned by the city government of Pagadian, for rent in favor of Aman is a clear indication that respondent Co is not merely an investor, as he claims,” the DOJ panel said.
De Lima said she was hoping arrest warrants would be issued soon by the court as she noted that syndicated estafa was a nonbailable offense.
The case was based on the complaint filed by investor Julius Labunog on behalf of four others who had invested a total of P29.633 million in Aman between August and September 2010.
Amalilio’s wife, Pendulas, was also indicted because the company had “manifested and represented to the general public that [she] had authority to transact and/or talk to unpaid investors after news broke that Aman was having problems.”
Relied on representations
The DOJ panel also said the complainants had relied on the representations made by Pendulas and, “on the basis of this reliance, complainants were falsely appeased, to their damage and prejudice.”
The panel said that while all the respondents had denied knowing the complainants, it noted that “there is no denying that the acts of its agents benefited them, having attracted investors.”
Meanwhile, De Lima said that upon consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs, she had deferred indefinitely the trip to Kuala Lumpur by a team of DOJ prosecutors and lawyers who were set to leave Tuesday to work for the immediate extradition of Amalilio.
“I don’t think we have the right environment or atmosphere to be talking to our counterparts,” De Lima told reporters, adding that Malaysia for one was “preoccupied” with the conflict in Sabah and it would be “pointless” to have discussions at this time.
She made it clear that they had not yet talked to Malaysian officials about this decision and expected the DFA to immediately inform them.
“Prudence dictates that this is not the right atmosphere or moment to sit down with Malaysian officials to talk about Amalilio,” De Lima said, noting that it would be “uncomfortable” to take up this matter given the situation in Sabah.