Lebanese-led human trafficking ring busted PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 18 September 2015 13:13

Government agents have smashed a Lebanese-led human trafficking syndicate, believed to be working in cahoots with some corrupt immigration officers during simultaneous operations in Zamboanga City, Bulacan, and Caloocan City and Zamboanga City, officials announced Thursday.

The suspected leader of the human trafficking syndicate identified as Lebanese Pascal Sreih alias ‘Kuya Mario’ and his Filipina wife, Vilma Rosa Matagay alias ‘Sarah,’ were arrested Monday. The operation was prompted by intelligence reports that the suspects are smuggling young Filipinas to Sabah, Malaysia and Lebanon with the assistance of some rogue immigration officers who are under their payroll.

All suspects have been subjected to inquest proceedings for violation of the Trafficking-in-persons Act and large-scale illegal recruitment.

Members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) under Director Virgilio Mendez, the Philippine Center for Transnational Crime headed by Undersecretary Felizardo M. Serapio Jr., and the Naval Intelligence Security Force, with the support and supervision of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, joined forces to bust the syndicate which gained notoriety for recruiting young Pinays as domestic helpers in other parts of Europe. The victims are also being made to pay hefty placement fees.

An investigation showed that the young Filipinas with tourist visas are being smuggled to Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia via Zamboanga City on their way to Lebanon with the help of some corrupt immigration officers.

Last Monday, NBI, PCTC, and Navy agents, with support from PAOCC and in coordination with the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. launched the simultaneous operations in Zamboanga City, San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan and Camarin, Caloocan City which resulted in the arrest of Sreih, his wife Matagay, two immigration personnel, identified as Joey Escobar and Fedel Mendoza and two others.

Undercover agents placed the Lebanese national under close surveillance after his name was repeatedly mentioned in the affidavits given by some victims rescued in Zamboanga City last May 28. The May 28 operation led in the rescue of 10 female human trafficking victims and the arrest of three suspects inside the Atilano Pension House in Zamboanga City. The 10 victims claimed they were recruited by the suspects based in Harmony 1 Italy Street corner Middle East, San Jose del Monte City.

Last August 16, another 10 female would-be victims of the syndicate were also rescued while one was arrested in a Zamboanga City hotel. The investigation showed that the victims who came from different places in Ilocos-Pangasinan Region, Cagayan, Isabela, Manila, Caraga region, Laguna and Manila were recruited by the same syndicate.

The human trafficking victims rescued last Monday said that Sreih and his Filipina wife recruited them as domestic workers in Lebanon and were promised that they will reach Lebanon with the help of the immigration contacts. All were issued tourist visas.

During the investigation, it was discovered that Sreih had assured his recruits that their stay in Lebanon will be all legal and aboveboard. However, the Lebanese demanded that each of his recruits surrender their passports to him before they leave the country thru the southern backdoor.

The investigation showed that the applicants who surrendered their passports to the Lebanese were housed in an apartment in Camarin, Caloocan City. After a week, they will travel to Zamboanga City with spurious travel documents and proceed to Lebanon via the Sandakan or Sabah, Malaysia route on board M/V Danica Joy-2, a passenger cargo vessel owned and operated by Aleson Shipping Lines INC with business address at 172 – 174 Veterans Avenue, Zamboanga City.

Investigators also discovered that the recruits are made to go to the Zamboanga City International Airport where they are fetched by a ‘facilitator’ who usually took them to the Blue Shark Hotel or Atilano Pension House, both located in Canelar, Zamboanga City, while waiting for their travel documents.

The victims were also given instructions to buy two-way tickets of M/V Danica Joy 2 and place pink pony tails on their wrists to serve as a ‘pass code’ to the syndicate’s immigration contacts. The pink pony tail will serve as a hint to the immigration officer to stamp their passports without any delay.

During the Monday operation, Mendoza signaled the 11 recruits to approach the table being manned by the contact immigration officer who immediately stamped the passports of the eight. However, the three others failed to have their passports stamped since they failed to wear the pink pony tails. The three were also offloaded and their passports confiscated.

The aforesaid joint team said that they are also investigating the possible connivance with the syndicate of some rogue local law enforcement agents, including at least two policemen. The suspects are said to be intentionally mishandling the criminal charges previously filed against Sreih and his group in exchange for some monetary consideration.