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Casino Junket Scam in the Philippines Lands 16 in Court

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The Baguio City Prosecutor's Office in the Philippines has indicted a group of 16 suspects, including alleged ringleader Hector Pantollana, on charges of syndicated and widespread fraud. The case centers on false promises of high returns if they invested in a casino junket scheme.

Junket Investment Scheme Was Junk

The group, operating under the name Horizon Players Club, is accused of swindling at least PHP4 billion (US$71 million) from roughly 10,000 investors across the Cordillera region and nearby areas. Investors were promised a lucrative return on their investments, with figures as high as 5% monthly returns being thrown around.

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However, according to the National Bureau of Investigation-Cordillera Administrative Region (NBI-CAR), which received numerous complaints from aggrieved investors last year, these promises turned out to be hollow. The promised returns never materialized, leading to a public outcry and the legal action that has now unfolded.

Pantollana, his brother Hubert Amiel, Mikaela Damasco and others stand accused of masterminding the scheme. They are alleged to have used deceptive tactics to lure investors with the promise of high returns, ultimately causing significant financial losses.

Despite the investors' complaints, Horizon Players Club continued to operate. Later, reports emerged suggesting the group continued their activities even after a Cease-and-Desist Order (CDO) was issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against Horizon Players Club's operations. This compounded the charges against the individuals.

The total amount allegedly swindled may be much higher and could reach as much as PHP17 billion ($301 million) as the investigation continues. It includes not only investments from Filipinos within the country but also funds from Filipino expatriates working abroad.

Professing Their Innocence

Both Pantollana and his legal team have strongly denied any wrongdoing. They claim the accusations are baseless and lack the necessary evidence to support them. They maintain that investors were fully aware of the nature of their investments. Similarly, Humilde and his associates have released statements vehemently rejecting the charges, labeling them as unfounded and unsubstantiated.

In the Philippines, syndicated estafa is considered a serious offense under the Revised Penal Code. The punishment for the crime is severe, but varies depending on the amount of money involved and other aggravating circumstances.

If the amount involved exceeds PHP1 million (US$17,760), those found guilty of syndicated estafa may face life imprisonment to death. Additionally, they may be required to pay fines that are proportionate to the amount of money defrauded.

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