YEAR 2019 saw the country’s top law enforcement and justice officials joining hands to arrest growing incidents of casino-related kidnappings and later, cases of Chinese and Taiwanese nationals who ended up being kidnapped after becoming disgruntled with their work in Philippine Online Gaming Operation or POGO companies in Metro Manila.
In October, Department of Justice Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony D. Fadullon called for a “whole-of-nation” approach to stop the growing incidents of casino-related kidnappings during a historic anti-kidnapping summit organized by the Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group or PNP-AKG headed by Brigadier General Jonnel C. Estomo.
“The attention of the local authorities are being diverted to casino-related kidnappings which is just a coercive scheme of loan sharks in collecting the borrowed money by the bettor-victims, from real kidnapping cases wherein the families of the victims and the victims themselves are more than willing to push through a case against the kidnappers and consequently have them punished in accordance with the law,” Fadullon, also the chairman of the Anti-Kidnapping Task Force said.
The PNP-AKG said that in 2017, they recorded 52 casino-related kidnapping cases, the same year when the operation of POGOs started in the country. That year also saw the arrest of 119 Chinese kidnappers.
In 2017, the DoJ through the National Prosecution Service resolved four casino-related kidnapping-for-ransom complaints. Two others were dismissed while the other two are ongoing trial.
In 2018, two out of seven of the casino-related KFR complaints filed were dismissed while one is pending for resolution. Four cases are already ongoing trial. This year, there were 18 complaints filed, five of which were dismissed while four are pending for resolution. Nine other cases are ongoing trial.
Fadullon said casino-related kidnapping is the effect of POGOs and legally operating casinos in the country. He said that it must be noted that victims of loan shark kidnappers are mostly actual bettors on the VIP tables of big casinos in the Philippines.
Estomo last month said they have uncovered another modus operandi of POGO companies hiring Chinese or Taiwanese employees and confiscating their passports to prevent disgruntled employees from returning to Mainland China or Taiwan.
Some of these companies also gained notoriety for hiring ‘foreign goons’ to abduct their fellowmen in order to force the victims to pay huge amount of money they supposedly owe or have stolen while at work.
The PNP-AKG last year investigated dozens of similar cases specially those which occurred in the southern part of Metro Manila including a December 9 incident in Makati City where a 28-year old Chinese woman named Zhou Mei was allegedly abducted by at least four Chinese men before reportedly being released.
The incident attracted national attention since the video of the alleged abduction went viral and caught the attention of both the Philippine and Chinese governments.
Over the past two months, PNP-AKG agents have arrested many Chinese nationals who were accused of abducting, torturing and demanding ransom from relatives of their victims which include Chinese, Taiwanese and even Vietnamese nationals.
Officials have admitted that foreign-led casino loan syndicates continue to give authorities specifically the PNP-AKG a major headache amid persistent findings that members of these rings are ‘abducting’ their victims who have failed to pay their huge debt from them.
Worse, their targets immediately flee the country as soon as they are rescued by authorities without making any effort to help the local police prosecute the ring members and bring them behind bars, the Journal Group learned.
There have been nearly countless cases of Chinese nationals who were reportedly kidnapped in Metro Manila although investigations showed they were tourists who spent days in casinos where they lost all their money. They were later enticed by syndicate members, many of them Chinese nationals too to borrow money from them telling their targets they would need the cash to recoup their losses.
As soon as the victims fail to return the money he borrowed, he would be taken to a hotel room or a gang safehouse where he will be detained against his will while members of the syndicate force him to call his family abroad and ask that he be ‘ransomed.’
Last year, over 40 foreigners and their Filipino associates were arrested by the PNP-AKG for illegally detaining Asian casino addicts, incidents which all have highlighted concerns that have scared potential high stakes gamblers away from Manila.
The victims, it turned out have borrowed money ranging from P600,000 to as much as P1 to 5 million from the loan sharks who detained them eventually amid their failure to pay their debts.
The PNP-AKG said that the syndicates, some of them believed being financed by rich Asians have been targeting foreign high-rollers since 2015 taking advantage of the fact that the country has transformed into being one of the fastest-growing casino hubs in Asia, after Macau and Singapore, with the opening of several resorts over the past two years.