Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Malaysian police are now looking for Manuel Amalilio, the alleged brains behind the Aman Futures investment scam who has been reported to be hiding in Kota Kinabalu, National Bureau of Investigation Director Nonnatus Rojas said on Friday.
"The (Malaysian) embassy promised the NBI that any feedback on the location of Amalilio will be conveyed to [us] once received from the relevant Malaysian authorities," Rojas said, adding that the embassy had expressed concern for the victims of the multibillion-peso scam that duped some 15,000 investors in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia, J. Eduardo Malaya earlier said the government "will work with Malaysian authorities to bring [Amalilio] back soonest to the Philippines, to the fullest extent allowable under international cooperation mechanisms."
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Senior Supt. Charlo Collado, police attache of the Philippine Embassy in Malaysia, however, said "a warrant of arrest [was needed to] expedite the return of the suspect to answer the charges against him."
But a month after the NBI filed a case against officials of Aman Futures in the Pagadian City's Prosecutor's Office, NBI deputy director for regional services Virgilio Mendez said they were "still waiting for the resolution of the fiscal."
The Bureau of Immigration (BI), meanwhile, issued a lookout bulletin against 38 persons said to be behind the Aman Futures scam, although Immigration Commissioner Ricardo David Jr. said that in the absence of an arrest warrant or hold-departure order (HDO) from the courts, immigration officers "can only report their departure to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for monitoring purposes, but cannot prevent them from leaving."
The suspects included in the BI lookout bulletin are Manuel Amalilio, Fernando "Nonoy" Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Eduard L. Lim, Wilanie L. Fuentes, Naezelle M. Rodriguez, Lurix Lopez, Prescilla Ann F. Co, Nimfa Luna, Rico Medina, Dhurwin Wenceslao, Reggie Luna, Araceli Pasco, Marilou Caballero, Shiela Luna Lasaca, Alfredo Aspira, P02 Ariel Real, Ernesto Luna, P03 Rey "Tata" Chang, Edward Amao, Maria Donna Coyme, Araceli Pasco Julian, Darwin Luna, Toto Caballero, Amay Caballero, Eric Lasaca, Judy Amarao, Edna Dalena, Dickens Dalena, Eva Dalena, Isojo K. Casil, Edna Caballero, Patrick V. Cenisa , Diosdado M. Mag-aso, Frederick M. Mag-aso, Leonita Duhaylungsod, Angelo Duhaylungsod and Roger Tenajeros.
David said only a judge could issue an arrest warrant or HDO against the suspects but that prosecutors have yet to charge them in court.
Meanwhile, the DOJ's 14-member special panel of prosecutors convened for the first time yesterday to begin its preliminary investigation of the P12-billion investment scam allegedly perpetrated by Amalilio and Koko Rasuman.
Rasuman, a Marawi City trader and son of former Public Works Undersecretary Bashir Rasuman, was allegedly behind a P300-million Ponzi scheme in Cagayan de Oro (CDO).
The panel, headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Edna Valenzuela, was given an update on the 29 cases filed in CDO involving Rasuman.
In other news: DOJ eyes link between get-rich-quick operators Aman Futures and Rasuman group
CDO prosecutor Fidel Macauyag, who attended the meeting, said five cases against 17 respondents, including Rasuman and several subordinates, were set to be resolved within this month, and that the special panel would continue its preliminary investigation.
He added, however, that they have yet to establish a link between the Rasuman scheme and that of Amalilio's Aman Futures.
"Our information is that the groups are the same, but based on the evidence submitted to us, we have not yet seen a link. But the scheme is the same, a Ponzi scheme providing a 50-per cent to 100-per cent return on investment," Macauyag told reporters.
The special panel was tasked by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to prosecute the scam perpetrators and file syndicated estafa cases against the operators of Aman Futures before the end of the year.
In Iligan City, an alleged insider in Aman Futures on Friday surrendered to the NBI and offered to turn state witness against officials of the investment firm.
Maria Donna Coyme, who claimed she was also a victim of the Aman scam, turned over documents that could be used as evidence against Aman Futures.
Coyme, a chemical engineering graduate, said she started as a tutor to the two children of Fernando Luna, an official of Aman Futures, but later helped set up the firm's financial management system. She said she helped raise P50 million among her contacts for them to be able to invest in the company.
Related story: Philippine authorities on manhunt for scam masterminds
Some of the company's board directors have also sent surrender feelers to the NBI, its deputy director for regional services Virgilio Mendez said.
"We had initial talks with some of the officials for them to come in, but they suddenly stopped [communicating with us] and went into hiding," the NBI official added.
In Lanao del Norte province, Brig. Gen. Daniel Lucero, commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade, said four persons were kidnapped on Nov. 11 in connection with the investment scam.
Lucero identified the victims as Abdul Muhaimen Lucman, Muhammad Dresa Lucman, Amer Deca and Camlon Deca, reportedly relatives of an Aman Futures agent.
The kidnappers wanted to force the agent to give back their investments in the firm, Lucero added.
He said the military had launched operations to secure the victims who were on their way to Marawi City when armed men led by a certain Aslahi Montilla flagged their vehicle along the national highway of Saguiran, Lanao del Sur province.
In Legazpi City, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda blamed the investment scam on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) which, he said, failed to check investment companies that were registered with the commission but engaged in pyramid schemes.
In an e-mailed statement, Salceda, an economist, criticised the SEC for its "passive directive" telling the public to be cautious about "get-rich schemes." SEC official Gerard Lukban issued the directive earlier.
Salceda said the SEC should have learned from other scams that caused the downfall of College Assurance Plan, Pacific and Prudential Life.
"In the wake of these financial investment scams, we must ask the SEC what [it has] done to protect investors," he added.
With reports by Richel V. Umel and Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao, and Mar S. Arguelles, Inquirer Southern Luzon