Philippines Busts Another POGO Scam Compound, Torture Alleged

March 14, 2024
Philippine authorities have rescued 875 Filipino and foreign workers after breaking up another alleged violent cyber scamming operation linked to a foreign-facing online gambling licensee (POGO).

Philippine authorities have rescued 875 Filipino and foreign workers after breaking up another alleged violent cyber scamming operation linked to a foreign-facing online gambling licensee (POGO).

A multi-agency team including police and soldiers executed search warrants early on Wednesday (March 13) morning on a POGO-controlled, 36-building compound in the small town of Anupul in Tarlac Province, just north of Clark Freeport.

Police rescued 432 Chinese nationals, 371 Filipinos, 57 Vietnamese and a handful of Malaysians, Taiwanese, Indonesians and Rwandans, the Philippine Inquirer reported on Thursday.

Police also discovered evidence of cryptocurrency investment scamming and scripts for workers conducting romance scams, as well as recovering firearms and ammunition.

The POGO licensee was identified as Zun Yuan Technology Inc by Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission spokesperson Winston Casio. The company name corresponds to an entry in a list of POGO licensees on the website of gambling regulator PAGCOR.

Casio said the warrants were issued for suspected human trafficking and illegal detention after Malaysian diplomats alerted the commission to a Malaysian being forced to work and stay in the compound.

The Malaysian presented signs of torture and physical abuse, including electrocution, Casio told the Rappler media outlet.

The authorities are also looking for a possible “torture chamber” on-site, GMA News reported.

Intelligence on the compound had been provided by a Vietnamese national who said he had escaped the compound on February 28.

Casio added that justice department officials are preparing charges against Zun Yuan Technology officials and that PAGCOR has been asked to cancel the company’s POGO accreditation.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Money Laundering Council has begun to examine the value of assets in the compound, whose size dwarfs other commercial developments in the area.

“I’m not sure how many hectares are involved here but it is a very large property,” Casio told the Inquirer. “It has 36 buildings which have three to seven stories. The property is really huge.”

Senator Win Gatchalian, a long-time opponent of online gambling, said in a statement on Wednesday that the raid “underscores the ongoing threat posed by industry to our society”.

“This raises the question: How long are we going to allow all of the crimes committed by POGOs in our country?

“I strongly urge the government to take decisive action and immediately implement a ban on POGO operations.”

Gatchalian and Senate allies have been building political and legislative pressure on PAGCOR to shut down the industry for years, joining influential executive agencies, social groups and the Chinese government in calling for the predominantly China-facing operations to be eradicated.

But real pressure only began to build on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has the final say on the industry’s survival, after police last year began raiding and breaking up large-scale, Southeast Asian-style cyberscamming operations built on captive labour.

These raids, involving thousands of captives in total, have been linked to POGO licensees or service providers.

This week's raid also calls into question the competence and methods of PAGCOR, which last year required POGO licensees to re-apply for accreditation as part of a comprehensive suitability and quality control sweep, spurred in part by cyberscamming raids in Metro Manila and Clark Freeport.

PAGCOR chairman and CEO Alejandro Tengco last month assured a panel at the ICE gaming conference and expo in London that criminal activity had been "weeded out" of the current slate of POGO licensees.

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