MANILA, Philippines - Authorities are looking into the possibility that the murder this week of an insurance agent and an arson case are connected to a multi-billion-peso pyramiding scam festering in Mindanao since the middle of this year.
Regional police director Chief Superintendent Napoleon Estilles yesterday said they are investigating the killing of Anwar Alvin Zainal, a car dealer who was kidnapped last Monday and found dead the next day in a remote town in Zamboanga del Sur.
Zainal is also known to be an incorporator of Aman Futures Group Philippines Inc., the firm led by Malaysian Manuel Amalilio who defrauded thousands in the pyramiding scam.
Estilles said they have yet to confirm if Zainal’s murder was connected to the scam, with initial information indicating that the killing was related to illegal drugs.
Police are also investigating the burning of the house of a certain Fernando Luna, father of one of Amalilio’s trusted men.
“We are checking if the fire was an accident or it was arson related to the scam,” Estilles said.
Zainal, also the owner of Security Pacific Insurance based in Pagadian City, was forcibly taken by unidentified men on Monday and was found dead in Barangay Balocot in Tambulig town, Zamboanga del Sur.
Zainal, identified as among the incorporators of Aman Futures Group, also allegedly collected from unregistered members.
There were also reports that some receipts, purportedly from Aman, were recovered from his body.
Senior Superintendent Ramon Ochotorena, deputy director for operations in Western Mindanao, said he received information through text about the arson and the murder of an executive of Aman.
Ochotorena said the information is being circulated via text.
“Those are text messages and we are still in the process of verifying them,” he said.
Estilles said he personally heard stories from policemen who also fell victim to the scam.
There were some 50 police officers that fell victim to the scam, according to Estilles who declined to identify them.
Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Chief Superintendent Generoso Cerbo Jr. also said these policemen invested their hard-earned money, amounts ranging from P30,000 to P50,000.
Cerbo said the policemen were among those who filed charges against owners, officials and personnel of the Aman Group.
This developed as the provincial police director of Zamboanga del Sur was relieved of his post as part of government efforts to bring Amalilio back to the country to face charges.
Senior Superintendent William Manzan was relieved of his post after a number of his men were among the defrauded victims of the multibillion scam in Pagadian City.
“We have relieved him because he was not able to supervise well his people who fell victim to the scam,” Estilles said.
Manzan was sacked barely a week after Superintendent Kenneth Mission, Pagadian City police chief, and nine other police officials were also relieved.
Estilles said they have already conducted the investigation and will be filing cases against the operators of Aman.
“We have complainants who were mostly policemen assigned in the area,” Estilles said.
Some 15,000 people, including local officials, military, police, teachers, drivers and street vendors were defrauded by the pyramiding scheme operated by Amalilio.
Estilles said they were still expecting a number of policemen and officers who would come out to testify and file the complaint against the scam operator.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has filed the complaint of syndicated estafa against the officials of Aman, namely Amalilio, chairman; Fernando Luna, Lelian Lim-Gan, Eduard Lim, William Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez and Lurix Lopez,
NBI Regional Director Edward Villarta said only eight filed the complaints against Aman in Cebu.
NBI director Nonnatus Rojas added Amalilio is in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, as confirmed by the Interpol and the Malaysian embassy in Manila.
“We are coordinating with the (Malaysian) embassy to make sure we know where he is, so by the time the arrest warrant is issued we know where to get him,” Rojas said.
Rojas pointed out that the Philippines has no Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with Malaysia, but could seek the help of the Interpol and invoke the treaty with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), where both Malaysia and the Philippines are members.
“As soon as the warrants of arrest are issued, we will coordinate with the Malaysian government, the Interpol and the embassy, so that the suspect can be arrested,” Rojas said.
Rojas added the other officers of Aman are still in the country and would be taken by the NBI into its custody once an arrest warrant is issued against them.
President Aquino said the Philippines could invoke MLAT among ASEAN member countries to extradite Amalilio.
He added the NBI had been coordinating with its counterparts in Malaysia in searching for Amalilio.
Aquino stressed the suspects in the pyramiding scam must be made responsible and “we are tracking down all those involved.”
He said due process must take its course and that there must be preliminary investigation before information could be filed and a hold departure order plus warrant of arrest could be issued.
Aquino, however, was not ready to comment on specific cases like the one involving Pagadian City Mayor Sammy Co, who was said to have invested and even encouraged other citizens to put their money in the company as well.
He said investigation was underway and there was no direct evidence yet to link other local government units to the scam.
Aquino though said it was clear who were running the company.
The President learned that as of Wednesday, there were already 8,000 complainants and the bulk came out second week of October.
“If I’m not mistaken before that, nobody wanted to cooperate as early as July,” Aquino said.
He said early opportunities to pin down the suspects were missed because the complainants refused to cooperate with authorities.
It was too bad and a waste that as early as July, the suspects could have been caught but the case did not prosper because of the absence of witnesses, those who would provide the paper trial and testimonies to strengthen the case, Aquino said.
The President said the government should not get the blame because as early as June or July, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Securities and Exchange Commission and the NBI already warned against pyramiding scams.
When the NBI started investigating, Aquino said investors who were approached told them they were “killjoy” and why “stop” their chance to earn a quick buck.
“So, I just want to stress that government agencies, even before the problem escalated, warned our fellowmen,” Aquino said.
He said there were similar schemes even in Marawi City.
“We will not stop, we need to find justice, but in the end we also need the cooperation of the people in fulfilling their duties to prevent this kind of scam,” Aquino said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), for its part, has already moved to expedite the arrest of Amalilio and the others by immediately creating a 14-member panel to conduct preliminary investigation on the syndicated estafa complaints filed by over 8,000 victims gathered by NBI.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said President Aquino directed “a very comprehensive, thorough investigation” over the scam.
“He (President) wants immediate action on this like issuance of warrant of arrest… I already instructed the National Prosecution Service not to wait for all complaints anymore before starting the PI because as of yesterday there are already 8,000 complaints,” De Lima said.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad confirmed in an interview over dzMM there were some politicians who invested in Aman Futures.
Abad did not name names but said it had been made certain that some local officials did invest in Aman.
Abad said they would have to know if the funds were personal or that of local government units.
He explained LGUs are not allowed to put in any portion of their internal revenue allotment (IRA) in any form of investment or money market.
IRA pertains to a portion of national taxes that is given to LGUs. Under the Local Government Code, the funds should be used for a province or municipality’s development projects, general administrative costs and operating expenses.
He said IRA should be for health centers, road improvements, salaries of workers and other operating expenses. LGUs that utilized their IRA for reasons other than what was allowed under the law could face criminal liabilities and other grave consequences.
He said the LGUs should have reported the scam immediately and would be responsible as well if they did not, since it was part of their obligation to protect the people from getting victimized.
Abad said IRA could be deposited in a bank before use but not invested in the stock market or money market. –Cecille Suerte Felipe, Roel Pareño, Aurea Calica, Edith Regalado, Rainier Allan Ronda