In one of the biggest busts in recent years, Philippine police arrested nearly 300 Chinese nationals suspected of being part of a ring that targeted people in China through an online investment scam, immigration officials in Manila said Friday.
The Bureau of Immigration, in coordination with other Philippine law enforcement agencies and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS), were carrying out a raid to arrest four wanted Chinese fugitives in the Manila area on Wednesday, when they stumbled upon 273 other Chinese nationals, the bureau announced in a statement Friday.
All 277 Chinese were taken into custody after the operation at the Ortigas financial district in Pasig city, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said, adding the raid took place after the bureau got a tip from the Chinese Embassy.
“We received an official communication from Police Attaché Chen Chao of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines indicating that these [four] Chinese fugitives engaged in an investment scam that victimized more than a thousand individuals, and has an estimated cost of damages amounting to more than 100 million RMB [U.S. $14.1 million dollars],” Morente said, referring to the Chinese currency, the Renminbi.
However, in the course of the raid, it “yielded the incidental arrest of 273 other Chinese nationals who were caught in the act of conducting illegal online operations,” said Bobby Raquepo, head of the bureau’s Fugitive Search Unit.
The unit later verified with Chinese embassy officials that the 273 were undocumented workers who were also wanted in China on suspicion of involvement in economic crimes, he said.
“It was discovered that they are also fugitives from justice, and wanted for large-scale fraud and investment scam in their country,” Raquepo said.
All 277 Chinese were detained at an immigration facility and charged with violating immigration laws, officials said, adding that the suspects were to be turned over to Chinese authorities before being deported.
The raid comes amid an intensified crackdown by the Philippines on undocumented migrants working mostly in online casinos that operate in the country and cater to Chinese customers.
Last month, China’s foreign ministry called on Manila to ban online gaming involving Chinese citizens, as Beijing sought support in cracking down on cross-border gambling. According to the Chinese government, gambling was a “dangerous tumor” on society and casinos could be used to embezzle and launder money.
But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte refused to comply with the request, saying the casino industry provided a new source of income for his country and much-needed jobs for Filipinos.
Some 200,000 Chinese nationals work in the Philippines, most of them employed in the gaming industry, according to government data.
Mark Navales contributed reporting from Cotabato City, Philippines.