By Aaron Recuenco
The influx of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) in the country has resulted in the upsurge of casino-related kidnappings, with the police’s Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) recording 52 cases since 2017.
Based on data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) AKG, there were 17 cases of casino-related kidnappings in 2017, and 16 cases in 2018.
Four months before 2019 ends, the AKG reported 19 cases, so far, an indication that this kind of criminal activity has been on an uptrend.
“In recent years, the upsurge of hotel and casino leisures in the Philippines, led to the influx of Chinese and other foreign nationals in the country,” an AKG report, obtained by the Manila Bulletin, read.
“This invites syndicates with criminal mind, to involve in a wicked business of loan sharking inside the casino premises. Thus, incidents of kidnapping related to gambling debt, arises from 2017 to date,” it added.
On the same AKG report, it stated that the casino-related kidnappings are mostly perpetrated by Chinese against the victims who are mostly their countrymen.
Of the 52 incidents recorded, 48 of the victims were Chinese, three were Koreans, two were Malaysians, one American, and one Singaporean.
Based on the analysis of these cases conducted by the AKG, the police unit came up with the usual modus operandi being employed by criminal syndicates, which it referred to as “loan sharks.”
Here are some excerpts of the AKG report:
“Casino junket operators, mostly Chinese nationals, through their agents will look for their fellow citizens abroad. They would entice them for a leisure visit, work or put up business in the Philippines.”
“Eventually upon arrival, casino agents would lure them to play in different casinos. The group will offer accommodations within the casino premises, and money, to lend in the form of casino chips.”
But there is one condition, according to AKG spokesman Lt. Col. Elmer Cereno.
“The money will only be released once the victim would sign a promissory note. Their passports would also be taken as a guarantee of payment,” said Cereno.
Based on the AKG report, interest in every winning would be at 20 percent to 30 percent. It goes to the lender as a commission.
“If the victim loses, he will be detained in a nearby hotel or in other places and the victims would be beaten,” the report read.
“These videos of victims being beaten or being tortured would be sent to their family abroad, to coerce them to pay excessive amount thru wire transfer in exchange for their release,” the report added.
The Philippine government has made it clear that it was supporting POGOs, and, as such, police are anticipating an uptrend of kidnapping activities using the modus.
The rise of casino-related kidnappings, according to the AKG report, could be attributed to the increasing number of POGOs operating in the Philippines.
As of June 9, 2019, there were 56 licensed POGOs in the country that employs an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 Chinese nationals.
“Yet, there were numbers (more or less 30) of illegal POGOS operating in the country,” the AKG report read.
AKG director Col. Jonnel Estomo said such an upsurge in casino-related kidnappings would require an improvement of intelligence networks, and aggressive legal offensive to teach foreigners a tough lesson that such criminal activities do not go unpunished in the Philippines.
Since 2017, Estomo said the AKG has arrested 119 suspects – 106 of them Chinese, four Malaysians, two South Koreans, and seven Filipinos.
“We usually receive the complaints on casino-related kidnappings through emails or telephone calls from China, representation from the victim’s family and embassy or police liaison officer,” said Estomo.
Estomo said that as a counter-action, he has already initiated close coordination with foreign counterparts and other government agencies.
He said they have also coordinated and strengthened ties with Chinese-Filipino groups in the Philippines.
Aside from coordination, Estomo said that they were currently pushing for the improvement of investigation skills, and the procurement of more investigation tools to improve their operational capability.
Just recently, he said, they initiated a partnership with Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) for the procurement of mobile communication and investigation van.
“Casino debt-related kidnappings continue to prosper, because of the influx of Chinese nationals in the country. Thus, this gives some negative effects in the peace and order of the country and the economy, as well,” said Estomo.
“However, intensified operations were already being conducted by AKG that includes intelligence-driven anti-kidnapping operations, strengthening collaboration with foreign counterparts and other stakeholders and continue enhancing coordination and interoperability with other law enforcement agencies,” he added.