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POGO loot hints of crimes

DOJ: P7m cash, bullets, SIM cards found in safes of Pasay hub

POGO LOOT. In these screen grabs from a TV report, raiding teams from the Department of Justice prepare a vault for opening after DOJ officials raided a Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation (POGO) hub in Pasay City on Thursday. Authorities were poised to open 32 vaults at the facility, where the first 21 contained over P7 million in cash plus bullets, gun silencers, tasers, pre-registered SIM cards (inset photos), and other items that indicated possible criminal activities, DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said.

Millions of pesos in cash and foreign currency and various financial documents, transactions, and paraphernalia—possibly used for financial fraud and other crimes—have been recovered from an offshore gaming hub raided two weeks ago in Pasay City, the Department of Justice revealed Thursday.

Pursuant to the search power issued by Pasay City Regional Trial Court, authorities led by the DOJ opened up 32 vaults from the raided Philippine Offshore Gaming Operation (POGO) hub in Pasay.

The first 21 vaults alone uncovered at least P7 million in cash and various banknotes from other countries — plus bullets, gun silencers, tasers, pre-registered SIM cards, and other items that indicated possible criminal activities by the POGO operator, DOJ spokesman Mico Clavano said.

These can be used as evidence for possible money laundering cases that may be filed against the operators of the illegal POGO, Clavano added.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation is taking legal action against 33 offshore gaming licensees, including some who have left the country, for unpaid fees amounting to P2.02 billion, according to Chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco.

PAGCOR records show that the operators, who were given licenses during the previous administration, have not paid their license fees for over a year now in violation of Section 4.C of the Offshore Gaming Regulatory Manual.

Tengco said despite appeals by the current management, the offshore gaming operators in question have not remitted regulatory fees due to PAGCOR.

“Because of this situation, we are duty-bound to take a legal course of action. We are now in the process of gathering pertinent information to file appropriate cases against them,” he said.

Pasay City RTC Acting Judge Gina Palamos issued the search warrant directing the authorities to conduct a search of the five-floor POGO building, which was raided by authorities last August 1.

Clavano, a DOJ Assistant Secretary, said if there would be sufficient basis, they will file charges of money laundering against the Pasay POGO operators.

Authorities believe there is evidence to show that the operators were engaged in money laundering, based on the financial and transaction documents recovered from the opened 32 vaults.

Among the items recovered from the vaults includes, transactions history, financial records, remittance receipts, receipts for the purchase of equipment, employment contracts, employment’s undertaking to reach quota, and pre-registered sim cards.

Passports, visas, car keys, and a crypto wallet for cryptocurrency transactions, which were suspected to be “proceeds and fruits derived from their alleged illegal operations” were also recovered.

“We are hoping for the rest of the vaults we find other transactions documents and financial transactions that will give us the perspective on their financial structure of their operations,” Clavano said.

“If we see a pattern or a web of financial transactions in relation to scam operations found here in Pasay City, then money laundering (charges) will also be filed (against the POGO operators),” the DOJ official stressed.

Of the 33 erring offshore gaming operators, two were billed as of May 2023 while two others were endorsed to PAGCOR’s Legal Group since February 2023.

Also, while five of the operators already closed shop, Tengco warned that their refusal to abide by Philippine laws and to pay the government what is due shall be dealt with legally.

“PAGCOR will continue to ensure that all our regulated gaming entities – including offshore gaming operators and service providers – will abide by our regulatory policies, including proper payment of fees and taxes,” he said.

During a congressional hearing early this week, the PAGCOR chief said some offshore gaming operators who were granted licenses during the previous administration closed shop during the pandemic, leaving behind billions of pesos in unpaid dues.

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