19 Officials Charged with POGO Workers Trafficking Scheme

A total of 19 immigration officers have been charged by the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

Immigration Officers Charged in Casino Workers Trafficking

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in the Philippines has opened a formal investigation into 19 immigration officers who are suspected of having smuggled illegal immigrants to work in the country’s offshore gaming industry.

Known as the Pastillas contraband channel, workers were smuggled without permits or approval from the government to work at the Philippine Offshore Gambling Operators (POGOs), the NBI reported, requesting a formal investigation into the 19 suspected employees.

NBI Special Action Unit chief Emeterio Dongallo Jr. has asked for the suspension of the involved officers while the investigation was afoot. Investigators will also focus on Empire International Travel and Tours, a travel agency whose owner, Liya Wu, reportedly facilitated the scheme and reached out to immigration officers offering kickbacks for assistance.

The NBI insisted that a court trial would be the best way of handling the issue as it would allow the officers to defend themselves publicly. However, the watchdog reminded the public that it was doubling its efforts in uprooting corruption in offshore gaming and any “erring personnel” would be prosecuted with the full severity of the law.

According to the NBI, the officials have violated anti-graft law and the agency even reached out to the country’s Ombudsman in the matter. The workers were first arrested earlier in 2020 with a person close to the matter blowing the whistle in front of the Senate.

Government Corruption Hurts the Regulated Gaming Sector

According to the source, POGOs paid the Bureau $210 for each employee who was allowed into the country. One Jeffrey Dale Ignacio was also charged with human trafficking after a Taiwanese woman who can to the Philippines to work was forced into prostitution when she arrived.

The woman was first moved to a casino venue, but soon rushed to a prostitution den. According to NBI Director Eric Distor, the investigation is far from over. Distor suggested that there were other personalities involved in the scheme and it ran much deeper than the 19 investigated employees suggested. He had this to say:

“Based on the evidence gathered, supported by photos and video recordings submitted by the whistleblower, subjects in this case indeed committed criminal transgressions and should be held liable thereof.”

According to Risa Hontiveros, a Senator who has insisted for the investigation to take place, the corrupt BI officials may have collected the equivalent of $210 million in kickbacks, a whopping amount that never went into the state coffers. That hasn’t been the first time the senate has called for an investigation into POGOs.

Should that be the case, the Philippines should reconsider their stance against POGOs, trying to over-regulate them too harshly. As it turns out, the problem may have been rooted in government corruption all along.

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