Philippine authorities on manhunt for scam masterminds

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine authorities have launched a manhunt for the brains behind the pyramid scam that duped some 15,000 people in Mindanao and the Visayas of 12 billion pesos (US$291 million).

But Manuel K. Amalilio, a 32-year-old founder of Aman Futures Group Phils. Inc., who is reportedly of Filipino-Malaysian descent, has left the country for Sabah, Malaysia. Amalilio's Malaysian name is Mohammad Suffian Saaid.

The Philippines has no extradition or mutual legal assistance treaties with Malaysia, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Even so, the Department of Justice knows of alternative mechanisms, including the International Criminal Police Organisation, to bring international criminals to justice, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in a text message yesterday.

Amalilio was seen in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, last week by an Ozamiz City-based businessman who was victimised by the firm, according to Pagadian City Mayor Samuel Co.

"Dr. Rico Medina called me up immediately after his confrontation with Amalilio, saying that his group was outnumbered by Amalilio's security escorts," said Co, himself a victim of Aman Futures.

Virgilio Mendez, National Bureau of Investigation deputy director for regional operations services, confirmed that Amalilio, the CEO of Aman Futures, had already left the country.

"We have confirmed that Amalilio is now in Kota Kinabalu," he said.

Mendez said no warrant of arrest had been issued against Amalilio and other officials of the company. "A warrant has yet to be issued by the court. We filed the information in the Office of the City Prosecutor of Pagadian City three weeks ago," he said.

President Benigno Aquino III has ordered officials to expedite the filing of the case and the arrest of the executives and officials of Aman Futures, Mendez said.

among the executives and directors of the firm facing arrest are Amalilio, Fernando "Nonoy" Luna, Lelian Lim Gan, Edward L. Lim, William L. Fuentes, Naezelle M. Rodriguez and Lurix Lopez.

No sacred cows

The NBI deputy director said Aquino also ordered a deeper probe of other people involved in the scam. "The president's specific instruction was to fast-track the investigation, no sacred cows," Mendez said.

He said the instruction was made through Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who was also present at the meeting with the president in the Palace.

Before attending the meeting, De Lima created a panel of prosecutors to help some victims file cases of syndicated estafa, a nonbailable offence, before the end of the year against the operators of Aman Futures.

De Lima said she had ordered a manhunt for the officials of Aman Futures, a Pasay City-based firm.

Among the firm's victims were local politicians, police and military personnel, government workers, market vendors, farmers, drivers, retired employees and overseas Filipino workers. Some victims appear to have taken the law into their hands as they desperately seek to recover their hard-earned money.

Agent of firm killed

An agent of Aman Futures was killed in a Zamboanga del Sur town after he was abducted by unidentified men in Pagadian on Monday.

Anwar Zainal, also the owner of Security Pacific Insurance, a car insurance agency, was found dead on the national highway in Barangay (village) Balucot in Tambulig town around 6am on Tuesday.

In a report to the Zamboanga del Sur police headquarters, Senior Insp. Edgar Hinoctan, chief of the Tambulig police, said Zainal succumbed to a single gunshot wound in the chest.

360,000 transactions

Co said that based on the last entry on the computers used by Aman Futures, there were at least 360,000 transactions made with the firm. He, however, could not say exactly how many people had been victimised as "some of the victims had multiple transactions."

Co estimates that in his city alone, some 120,000 transactions, from 5,000 pesos to millions of pesos of investment, were made.

Co himself was among those who invested money. "I learned that my political enemies had also invested. I was planning to use the money to support the barangay officials in next year's elections," the mayor said of his 2-million peso investment.

"Now, the money's gone," Co told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Warning unheeded

Aman Futures started operating in Pagadian in March, and by May it was able to lure more residents in investing in the firm. As early as April, Co said he had warned residents to be cautious about investing.

"I told them that the scheme was too good to be true. But still, they took their chances," he said of the thousands of his constituents who fell victim to the scheme run by Aman Futures.In fact, the mayor added, most "investors" earned from the scheme.

"There were at least 200 brand-new cars roaming around the city," he said.

"Who wouldn't be enticed to invest? Just imagine your 10,000 pesos earning 3,500 pesos or your 100,000 pesos earning 25,000 pesos in eight days," he added.

In June, Co said City Hall started going after the firm because it was operating without a permit. "We ordered the police to make arrests, but nothing happened," he said, adding that most police personnel had also invested in the firm.

Office closed

This, the mayor said, forced him to issue a temporary permit. "Our dilemma was that if we go after the firm, we would also be going against our constituents," he said.

But in September, the firm started to lose its magic, with people complaining about bouncing checks. On September 27, Aman Future's office closed down and its personnel, led by Luna, were nowhere to be found.

De Lima said she would issue a department order creating a panel of prosecutors to help investigate the pyramid scam. "As much as possible we want the cases filed before the end of the year," the justice secretary said.

General Claro Arellano said 10 to 12 prosecutors would help the victims file syndicated estafa cases against Aman Futures officials.

Even if these officials have fled the country, the long arm of the law can still reach them because the government will invoke bilateral agreements like the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with countries where they have sought refuge, according to De Lima," she said.

De Lima also said the justice department was investigating reports that some local officials had also invested in Aman Futures and probably used public funds.

She said that initially, the NBI had a hard time filing cases against Aman Futures because complainants hesitated in doing so for fear that they would be unable to recoup their investments.

But she said she did not think the victims would be able to recoup their investments if they did not file charges because the officials of the investment firm had already gone into hiding and closed down accounts.

Aman Futures was able to lure investors by offering a 30-per cent to 40-per cent return on investment within eight days, and a 50-per cent to 80-per cent profit for 18 to 20 days.

The investment firm would give their investors a postdated check for the entire sum of the investment plus the profit. But the postdated checks started to bounce last month, causing investors to panic and seek out the officials of the firm.

Sergio Osme?a III, chairman of the Senate banks and financial institutions committee, said the higher the return on investment, the higher the risk. "That should already alert you that what is being offered is a scam," he said .

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) or the central bank has warned the public against investment schemes that offer above-market interest rates, saying promises of very high returns are usually associated with fraud.

"Don't be enticed by investment schemes that promise very high returns. If it sounds too good to be true, it is likely a scam and you can end up losing even your principal," BSP Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. told the Inquirer.

*US$1=41 pesos

With reports from Tarra Quismundo, Cathy C. Yamsuan and Michelle V. Remo

  • Ford plants a new Mustang on the Empire State Building in style 43 minutes ago
    Ford plants a new Mustang on the Empire State Building in style

    Fifty years ago this week, Ford made history by staging the greatest car launch in history — building up the drama around its new Mustang with stunts like papering over dealership windows and landing on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazine. To celebrate its anniversary, Ford re-created a stunt it last pulled off in 1965 — landing a new Mustang on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

  • All-new 2015 Toyota Camry becomes an edgier appliance 1 hour 14 minutes ago
    All-new 2015 Toyota Camry becomes an edgier appliance

    Toyota finds itself in a tricky situation. Those that enjoy cars as more than a simple means of transportation think of the Camry as a bland spongecake gone stale. And yet it's been the best-selling vehicle in the entire industry for the past 12 years, with a car rolling off the production line every 65 seconds. So how do you add flavor to your insipid dish without alienating your loyal -- and vast -- customer base? Enter the 2015 Camry: Toyota's attempt to engage enthusiasts while appeasing to those that think a turbo is nothing but make-believe snail.

  • New Hyundai Sonata grows into a large contender 1 hour 16 minutes ago
    New Hyundai Sonata grows into a large contender

    So it’s taken a while, but Hyundai is in the big leagues now. There is rife evidence of this in its sales numbers, reliability ratings and white paper indices, but the most telling indicator to us, perhaps, is that Hyundai no longer feels the need to overdesign or mimic other automobile designs as if to say, “Look, we can build good cars, too! They look just like these other nice ones!”

  • Supermodel Qi Qi is afraid of flying
    Supermodel Qi Qi is afraid of flying

    The supermodel said that she will take her daughter in a vacation but will try to avoid boarding a plane

  • One dead as S. Korea ferry with 476 passengers sinks
    One dead as S. Korea ferry with 476 passengers sinks

    South Korea's coastguard said Wednesday one person had been killed as it struggled to rescue 476 people -- mostly high school students -- aboard a ferry that ran aground and sank off the southern coast. "The ferry is almost completely submerged," Lee said, adding that a detachment of South Korean Navy SEALS were taking part in the rescue. Of the 450 passengers on board the ferry bound for the southern resort island of Jeju, 325 were students from a high school in Ansan, south of Seoul. The 6,825-tonne ferry, which had sailed out of the western port of Incheon on Tuesday evening, ran into trouble some 20 kilometres (13 miles) off the island of Byungpoong.

  • ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says
    ‘Huge’ Hindu, Buddhist statues against Islam, ex-judge says

    KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — The “huge” statues at a Hindu temple in Batu Caves and Buddhist temple in Penang are an affront to Islam as the religion forbids idolatry, a retired Court of Appeals judge...