Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Secret hospitals in Philippines offer criminals surgical makeover to evade police: ‘Entirely new person’

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Authorities in the Philippines have uncovered secret hospitals that offer plastic surgery for fugitives and scammers seeking to evade arrest, according to reports. 

“You can create an entirely new person out of those,” said Winston John Casio, a spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission.

Police raided one such hospital in the southern suburbs of Manila, leading to the discovery of a second hospital. Authorities will shut down both hospitals “in the coming weeks,” the BBC reported

An anonymous tip told the authorities that an unlicensed hospital was operating in Pasay, located just five miles south of the capital Manila. An intelligence officer confirmed to the commission that the hospital existed, though it was initially framed as a “stand-alone” operation.

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Inside one of the rooms at a secret hospital in Pasay, Philippines, which was raided in May by authorities. (Philippines Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission)

Authorities arrested two Vietnamese doctors, one Chinese doctor, one Chinese pharmacist and a Vietnamese nurse, finding that none of them possessed a license to practice medicine in the country. 

The hospitals expand the country’s increasingly distressing “Philippines offshore gaming operator” (POGO), which officials have alleged has ties to China. POGO presents itself as an online casino, but has actually served as a front for a “scam center” with hundreds of workers, including Chinese nationals.

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Cosmetic operation POGO

A secret hospital used by an alleged offshore gambling operator, which may serve as front for transnational scam operation. (Philippines Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission)

The hospitals allegedly help POGO center workers completely change their appearances, including hair transplants, dentures and skin whitening sessions if they need to disappear and avoid authorities. The commission found tools for these operations and many more during a raid in May, The South China Morning Post reported

“They had an operating table, and other aesthetic alteration procedures such as dental implants, hair restoration, facial rejuvenation, and so on,” Casio said. “If you bring all of these together, you can create an entirely new person out of those.”

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Pasay Bamban Philippines

One of the men who allegedly helped run the secret hospital. (Philippines Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission)

“We know for a fact that these POGO hospitals have no licenses and permits from the proper government regulatory agencies,” he added.

Casio stressed, however, that these hospitals only help POGO workers and not other types of criminals seeking to evade capture. He suggested that a “good number” of these hospitals may exist across the country.

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Philippines secret hospital

Possible operating room in secret hospital located near the Philippines’ capital. (Philippines Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission)

The commission will continue investigating the full scope of these secret hospitals, including the number of locations and patients, who also assume fake identities after leaving. The Bureau of Immigration will assist the investigation.

The POGO centers have proven a high-profile concern for the Philippines, which worries worry about widespread criminal activity. The mayor of Bamban in May found herself in the middle of a scandal when the Bureau of Immigration opened an investigation into whether she had constructed her identity and personal history to run for office.

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Officials alleged that Mayor Alice Guo could in fact be a Chinese national who helped facilitate the establishment of the POGO scam center in Bamban, which facilitated “love scams” where scam workers adopted fake identities to establish romantic relationships online and extort money from a victim.

Casio, the spokesman for the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission, argued that handling the POGO centers remains a chief concern due to possible connections between the local operations and an “immense” transnational crime operation. 



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