MANILA - At least two loanshark syndicates have been preying on tourists playing in casinos in the Philippines since 2015, with police already tallying 11 victims of kidnapping, including a Singaporean rescued on Tuesday (July 18).
“These two groups are composed mostly of Chinese and Singaporean nationals of Chinese descent. They always target Chinese and Singaporean (gamblers),” Director-General Ronald de la Rosa, national police chief, told reporters on Thursday (July 20).
An anti-kidnapping unit rescued Singaporean Wu Yan, 48, on Tuesday morning from 14 men holding her captive inside one of the rooms of a condominium in Paranaque City, south of the capital Manila.
Ms Wu had been gambling at the Solaire Resort and Casino in Paranaque when three men and a woman snatched her and took her to Bayview International Towers less than a kilometre away.
She was held for almost four days. She was beaten and forced to make a video pleading to her family in Singapore to send US$180,000 (S$246,000) for her release.
A friend of hers in Singapore alerted the authorities in the Philippines who managed to track down her location. A guard at the condominium chanced upon her as she was trying to escape, and alerted police who were already casing the building.
Police later arrested 45 suspects, all Chinese, except two Malaysians, who were presented to the media on Thursday (July 20). Aged between 25 and 35, they were charged on Wednesday and may face life sentences if found guilty.
Mr De la Rosa said the same syndicate that abducted Ms Wu was responsible for two more kidnappings. One involved a Chinese, abducted last month, who coughed up 300,000 yuan (S$60,700) in ransom, and another a Hong Kong national who managed to escape after she was taken on July 9.
Senior Superintendent Glenn Dumlao, head of the police’s anti-kidnapping unit, said the syndicates would usually operate in teams of four, scouring casino floors for victims.
Their targets are tourists who are more vulnerable to threats and intimidation. They do not go for local players.
They pretend to be players, and then financiers. They look for players who are losing money, and then will offer a loan. In turn, they will charge a 10 per cent commission on the loan, and another 10 per cent on their target’s winnings.
If the player is already deep in debt, they will tell him that he may get lucky at another casino. They will offer to give him a ride, but will instead forcibly take him to their safehouse.
“I want to make it clear that we are not anti-gambling. We are not against foreigners coming to the Philippines to gamble. But we are anti-criminals. We are especially against foreigners who will come here to commit crime. We do not tolerate that,” said Mr de la Rosa, the police chief.