The National Prosecution Service (NPS) today filed an Information before the Regional Trial Court in Iligan City (RTC-Iligan City) charging twelve individuals, including Pagadian City Mayor SAMUEL S. CO, for their alleged participation in the financial fraud scheme perpetrated by Aman Futures Group Phil. Inc. ("AMAN"). The charge arose from a complaint filed by JULIUS M. LABUNOG, on behalf of several other complainants, who claim that they had pooled their money and invested a total of P29,633,000 in Aman between August 22 to September 17, 2010.
The Special Panel of Prosecutors - which was created pursuant to Department Order No. 963, precisely to conduct preliminary investigation into the complaints that arose from the alleged widespread financial scam that is believed to have caused damage to thousands of victims in amounts that reportedly have reached hundreds of millions of pesos in total -'found probable cause to charge twelve (12) out of the original thirteen (13) respondents with "swindling or estafa by means of false pretenses or fraudulent acts" (as punished and defined under Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code), in relation to Presidential Decree No. 1689, or syndicated estafa.
Seven of them, namely, MANUEL K. AMALILIO, FERNANDO R. LUNA, LELIAN LIM GAN, EDUARD L. LIM, WIALNIE L. FUENTES, NAEZELLE M. RODRIGUEZ and LURIX B. LOPEZ are being charged for their acts as incorporators, directors and officers of Aman, which engaged in commodity futures trading, management of funds or investments of any kind knowing that it was not authorized to do so. In their capacity, they knew that they have not obtained authorization from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to engage in such transactions, yet they proceeded to solicit and receive investments from the public, whom they enticed and convinced to part with their money because of their repeated assurances of the legitimacy of their business, their alleged investments in oil trade, and their possession of legal authority to engage in such transactions, including the necessary license, authority and special permit from the government to engage in the trading of future commodities.
In the Resolution, the Special Panel emphasized that corporations operate through natural persons - namely, their incorporators, members of the board of directors and officers - and it is the latters' acts and omissions that serve as bases for their own criminal liability. The Panel took special note of the background of the respondents, one of whom was a former "casino runner" of one of the casino financiers at the Waterfront Casino in Cebu City, a former "Wet Market Specialist" for Century Pacific Group-Pacific Meat Company, Inc, and, even respondent Luna, who claimed to be merely the driver and otherwise lackey of Amalilio, admitted that he became learned in the running of an investment business, and that it was he who established the Pagadian City office.
Four others, including the wife of Amalilio, ABIGAIL PENDULAS, were also charged in their capacity and for their acts as agents of Aman. The Special Panel found that they represented Aman in transacting with investors and potential investors, introducing them to the company and the whole "investment process" and, most importantly, assuring them of its legitimacy. Pendulas, in particular, was noted to have spoken to unpaid investors and assured them of the legitimacy of Aman as a business entity even at the time when doubts arose and investors were demanding their unpaid investments.
As to Respondent Mayor Co, complainants claimed that his act of entering into an agreement with Aman Futures Trading, whereby each investment in Aman will be taxed at 4% by the City of Pagadian, further made it appear to the public that Aman was a legitimate business.
In his defense, Mayor Co denied the existence of any such agreement. He claimed that AMan was only charged the amount of P39,790.00, whichwas paid by Aman when it opened its Pagadian City branch, headed by Respondent Luna. Upon such payment, Aman was issued a Certificate of Payment of Business Tax, which Mayor Co claimed "automatically served as a temporary business permit."
Notably, such temporary business permit was issued even before Aman completed the submission of all documents required from it by the local government. Aman, in fact, never completed the submission of all necessary documents as it had promised, considering that one of those documents was the secondary license it never obtained from the SEC.
Mayor Co denied any irregularity in such procedure, claiming that Pagadian City only followed the example of Cebu City, which earlier issued a similar temporary permit to the office of Aman Futures in said city. He also denied that 4% business tax was ever levied on each and every investment paid by the complainants. He claimed'that he was also a victim of the scam, just like the complainants.
In resolving to charge Mayor Co, the Special Panel held that his bare denial cannot overcome the positive assertions of the complainants, and, thus, the question of whether or not he or the City of Pagaidan benefited from the alleged 4% tax is a question that can be best threshed out in a full-blown trial. For the purposes of determining probable cause, in the meantime, such is found to exist, as it appears that, by his acts, third persons acting in good faith (i.e., complainants herein) relied on the representations about the existence of the agreement as further proof of the legitimacy of Aman's business, and, thus, induced them to part with their money, to their damage and prejudice.
Furthermore, the Special Panel also found indications that he acted, not merely as an investor, but also as an agent of Aman, such as the assertion in the Sworn Statement of his one of his co-Respondent, Lelian Gan, that Aman issued a certification dated 25 August 2012, declaring respondent Samuel Co as an "authorized agent" of Athan in online futures trading, as well as his act, using his public office, of offering C3, a public building owned by the Pagadian City government, for rent in favor of Arnan for its operations.
Finally, no probable cause was found to exist to charge respondent JORINO LEDESMA for the crime of syndicated estafa, along with the rest, as his only participation, based on the records, is his being a relative of Respondent Dequito and a known "private pilot of respondent Amalilio, who had direct access with Aman..." Complainants admitted that they never met or talked to Ledesma about Aman or any investment.
Several of the Respondents, including Mayor Co, have previously been charged with syndicated estafa arising from the alleged fraudulent investment scheme of Aman.
The complainants in this case are claiming a total of P44,035,690.00 (i.e., ctual investment plus interest computed at the rate of return promised to them) in damages.