Thursday, July 30, 2009

Land of the Rising Scam

Celso de los Angeles is just the latest in a Who's Who gallery of Filipino rogues and scoundrels that have fleeced Filipinos of their money and savings. He is not the first but he seems to be the one who has practically perfected the art.

The pyramid scam hogged the headlines in 2002 when investment firms, most of them not even registered with the SEC, swindled more than a million investors of an estimated P100 billion. Companies such as Multitel, MMG Holdings, Tibayan Group of Companies, Glasgow and Maria Theresa Santos Trading duped people into investing P10,000-P300,000 with promised 10-15 percent annual returns.

Multitel, owned and operated by the pyramid queen Rosario Baladjay,used counselors who recruited investors. Successful recruitments meant a 1 to 20 percent commission for the counselors, who also brought in subcounselors. Celso used marketing agents who inveigled preneed planholders to convert their plans into DYM certificates and convinced savers to deposit in the Legacy rural banks. While Baladjay's scheme ran for three years (1999 to 2002), Celso's flourished for a record 11 years (1997 to 2008). But in three years, Baladjay amassed a whopping P20 billion while Celso "only" siphoned off a conservative P14 billion.

In 2008, a racket which spun off from Multitel also stole P2 billion-worth of investments from its victims. Cyrus Yap Hao, who worked with Baladjay in Multitel, introduced his own pyramid scheme through a company called Royal Manchester Five. FrancsSwiss also solicited investments ranging from $1,000-$10,000 with payment done online through the different websites of FrancSwiss, duping investors of another $150 million.

Baladjay was convicted in 2003 based on numerous estafa cases, and so was Maria Theresa Santos. Both are believed to be incarcerated in the Correction Institute for Women. Eric Mateo of Mateo Trading was arrested in early 2008 while Hao left the country in March 2008 but he was eventually nabbed by the NBI, but Jesus Tibayan is still at-large. Nobody knows any recents news about Mateo, Hao and Tibayan, but a recent news reports has given us a clue:

MANILA, July 2 — Acting Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary and concurrent Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera ordered on Thursday DOJ prosecutors to fast-track the investigation of all financial and business scam cases awaiting resolution.
Correlating the unresolved cases in the DOJ and other prosecution offices to the recent conviction of former NASDAQ chairman Bernard Madoff, "this will generate the feeling of impatience to the general public and the complainants of the business and financial cases," Devanadera pointed out.

The Acting DOJ chief ordered Acting Chief State Prosecutor Severino Gana, Jr. to direct Asst. Chief State Prosecutors Miguel Gudio and Leah Armamento and City Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos to speed up the investigation of such cases similar to a Ponzi scheme committed by Madoff.

"Let us show immediate results," Devanadera stressed as she urged DOJ prosecutors for the successful prosecution of the accused. (PNA)

Two million-peso questions: Does Devanedera's memo indicate that the former Secretary of Justice sat on these cases? Any bets that this new directive will cover Celso?

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