Monday, November 19, 2012

Gov't assures Aman staff of protection

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang yesterday assured the personnel of Aman Futures Group Philippines Inc. of protection from “rampaging” victims to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. The Aman Futures office in Kawit, Pagadian City was ransacked by scam victims, who took away furniture and office equipment, after the company was shuttered on Sept. 26. One of the firm’s brokers, Anwar Zainal, was also reported to have been abducted in Pagadian City and his body found in the nearby town of Tambulig in Zamboanga del Sur province. “First, the law enforcement authorities are aware of that (situation) which is why (Interior) Secretary (Manuel) Roxas did... order the relief of police officials to avoid any untoward incidents,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said. “And we reiterate our appeal to the investors not to take the law into their own hands. The authorities are moving quickly on this. They are doing everything they can to give justice to the investors who were duped, according also, of course, to the instruction of the President,” Valte added. Valte said security measures had been in place and authorities were ensuring the safety of Aman officials who decided to surface “because they are in fear of their lives.” “So we are giving them the appropriate security if they need it,” Valte said. She said law enforcement agencies were told to proceed as quickly as possible as far as the investigation was concerned and arrest the suspects. The Department of Justice (DOJ), on the other hand, said it will not consolidate the cases involving the pyramiding scams by the groups of Manuel Amalilio of Aman Futures and Jachob “Coco” Rasuman despite reported links between them. Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said the two cases are undergoing separate preliminary investigation by the same special panel of prosecutors created last week. Amalilio and Rasuman used the Ponzi scheme in duping thousands of people. Rasuman was a top agent of Amalilio’s Aman Futures Group, which allegedly took millions from some 15,000 people in Visayas and Mindanao. “We won’t consolidate them. We will treat them separately,” Arellano said. This move of the DOJ is expected to further expedite resolution of the complaints against Amalilio and Rasuman and the filing of cases in court. Evaluations Arellano, chief of DOJ’s national prosecution service, vowed to try their best to meet President Aquino’s one-week deadline for the filing of cases in court to secure arrest warrant against Amalilio, who reportedly fled to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. Arellano revealed the panel already received last Friday afternoon records of five complaints against Rasuman from Cagayan de Oro City prosecutors’ office and the initial sets of complaints against Amalilio. “The records were transmitted to us just last Friday afternoon. We are still evaluating them,” he said. Cagayan de Oro City Prosecutor Fidel Macauyag personally delivered the records of the Rasuman case to Arellano’s office. Macauyag said their investigation took a little longer to be completed because of the voluminous records and documents involved. It was alleged that Rasuman’s firms, NAD 21 Auto Option and BRD Group of Companies, duped their victims - mostly businessmen - through the same Ponzi scheme allegedly used by Aman. Macauyag found both firms were not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), adding that NADS 21 was registered with the Department of Trade and Industry but under single proprietorship only. Rasuman, son of a former public works official who was reportedly taken into custody by authorities last week, had already denied the charges in a counter-affidavit filed through his lawyers. Macauyag admitted receiving information that Rasuman’s operations had links to Aman, but explained this issue was not explored because it was irrelevant insofar as complaints involving some P300 million from 29 complainants in CDO are concerned. Macauyag said the complaints were set to be resolved on Nov. 22 before they were transferred to the DOJ. As for the Aman case, Arellano said the preliminary investigation of some complaints had already started in Pagadian City fiscal’s office before transfer to the DOJ. Under DOJ rules, the investigating fiscals will first require the respondents to answer the allegations. Once reply and rejoinder of parties are filed, it will be submitted for resolution. Amalilio, a 32-year-old Filipino of Malaysian descent, reportedly owned three private planes and two units at Upper McKinley Hills Garden Villas in Taguig City. He also owns a house in Cebu City and Dapitan City. A report from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) showed Aman had lured investors by encouraging them to invest in a double-your-money investment scheme. The victims - mostly low-income earners - were promised a return of the entire sum of their investment in the form of postdated checks, plus investment profit ranging from 30 to 40 percent in less than a month. Aman representatives claimed the profit from the investments would come from a Malaysian brokerage firm, Okachi, supposedly engaged in futures trading of commodities such as oil and minerals. About 80 percent of the scam victims reside in Pagadian, and the rest in the cities of Marawi, Iligan, Ozamiz and Cebu. The SEC earlier confirmed Aman had been registered on July 22, 2012 with the following incorporators and board of directors: Amalilio, Fernando Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Eduard Lim, William Fuentes, Naezelle Rodriguez and Lurix Lopez. However, SEC issued a cease and desist order against the firm’s operations last Oct. 8. Publicity Among the thousands that fell victims to the scam, several policemen and a local official were known to have been involved. Pagadian Mayor Samuel Co was among those investigated in the scam. Reports said Co allegedly invested about P30 million in Aman, distributed checks from Amalilio and referred investors to the company. Co said the allegations were a grand scheme of his political nemesis to pin him and his political plans down. Co asserted that he was more of a victim, just like the thousands who were defrauded by the investment scam, who wants to help the other victims recover millions of pesos in Pagadian City and nearby provinces. Maria Dona Coyme, who described herself variously as finance manager, teller and office facilitator of Aman, with another employee surfaced at the NBI in Iligan City reportedly detailed in her affidavit the involvement of Co. But Co claimed the accusations were politically motivated, pointing to his opponents in the May 2013 elections as behind the allegations. Meanwhile, Sen. Edgardo Angara said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima should take over investigation of the Aman Futures scam. Angara has expressed displeasure that the NBI under the Department of Justice has been telegraphing its actions against the masterminds and suspects behind the multimillion-peso scam. “This is affecting our financial system,” Angara said, noting that many local officials, farmers, teachers, and other professionals have been victimized in the scam. Angara recommended that DOJ create a special task force composed financial experts from the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Bangko Sentral Pilipinas (BSP), “because this is more than police work, this requires financial expertise.” He added that someone should be on top of the investigation. “I ask Justice Secretary De Lima to be personally in charge of this, of this scam probe.” At the same time, Angara suggested that concerned agencies, including the BSP and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should expand their information campaign to warn the public to be wary of get-rich-quick schemes. Angara said the DOJ task force should also include DTI’s consumer protection office, special prosecutors and special investigators. Angara said the immediate arrest of the suspects led by Amalilio has been foiled due to the announcements in the media even before the crack teams were deployed. “Our police agencies and investigators must work for the immediate arrest and prosecution of the suspects instead of resorting to press releases and publicity,” he added. - Edu Punay, Christina Mendez, Roel Pareño - By Aurea Calica