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POEA charges Ylagan with massive illegal recruitment

15 March 2018

By Daisy CL Mandap
Ylagan is caught on camera counting
money paid by an applicant

The world has just gotten smaller for Ester P. Ylagan.

The 65-year-old recruiter accused of fleecing no less than 200 overseas Filipino workers of tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for non-existent jobs in Canada and Britain two years ago, has just been charged by Philippine authorities with illegal recruitment.

Ylagan used to co-own with her late husband Emry's Service Staff Employment Agency, the biggest recruiter of Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. She also owned Mike's Secretarial Services, which she used in her apparent recruitment scam.

In a memorandum dated Mar 13, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration informed  Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre that a criminal case for illegal recruitment had been filed against Ylagan with the Department of Justice.

In addition, two administrative charges were filed against her: one for “unjustifiably collecting fees from the workers”, and another for “committing a felony or crime punishable by the laws of the Philippines or the host country.

Under Philippine laws, illegal recruitment is a serious offence for which the maximum penalty could be life in prison. Bail could also be withheld for one charged with the gravest form of the offence.

Contacted by The SUN on the phone, POEA Administrator Bernard Olalia confirmed that the information filed against Ylagan was for “syndicated illegal recruitment”, meaning the case against her involved at least three alleged victims. Because of this, Ylagan will be held without bail once a warrant of arrest is issued against her.

He said that it was up to the DOJ to file the case in court, after which an arrest warrant could be issued once “probable cause” is established.

“I will still have to find out if the DOJ has already made that determination,” Olalia said.

A flyer from Ylagan's company, Mike's, offered
'any job available'in UK and Canada
Around 10 Filipinos, many of them relatives of OFWs in Hong Kong, have filed complaints with the POEA against Ylagan, who allegedly charged between $10,000 and $15,000 for bogus jobs in Britain and Canada.

Some of them personally brought their complaints directly to Olalia late last year, when he was still 
acting POEA administrator. They were accompanied to the meeting by migrants rights advocate Susan Ople, who has been keeping tabs on the case.

At least 200 more OFWs have filed complaints against her with Hong Kong police. On Mar. 11, the police began looking at the case in earnest after a group of lawyers divulged in a media interview that Ylagan could have also engaged in big-stakes money laundering, partly using the money paid her by the applicants.

Olalia also confirmed that one of the administrative charges being pursued against Ylagan was for her “unlawful exaction of fees”, for which the maximum penalty would be the cancellation of her license.

However, this charge may have become moot when she voluntarily ceased operations after POLO Hong Kong cancelled her accreditation, meaning she could no longer recruit Filipinos for work in the city.

The other administrative charge, over a felony or crime she may have committed in the Philippines or Hong Kong, could be over the money laundering allegation against her.

Documents shared with The SUN by the group looking into this angle showed Ylagan, along with her two sons, a son’s girlfriend and former staff members, appeared to have moved millions of dollars to places as far apart as Nigeria and Malaysia. The documents have been turned over to Hong Kong authorities who are looking into the case.

Some of the applicants who sought help from HK Police
Meanwhile, the police in Hong Kong have begun interviewing around 80 OFWs who had complained against Ylagan’s apparent recruitment scam as early as July 2016.

A total of 32 OFWs were reportedly interviewed and asked to submit additional documents during the whole-day session held at the Central Harbourfront Station on Mar. 11. The others are being called for similar interviews this coming Sunday, Mar. 18.

Up until this time, Ylagan managed to avoid going to court, despite being the subject of numerous complaints from Filipinos – in Hong Kong, Macau and the Philippines – who claimed to have paid her thousands of dollars for the fictitious jobs she offered.

It appeared Ylagan charged HK$15,000 for each job applicant to Canada, and HK$10,000 for those who wished to work in Britain. Several applicants claimed they paid her for multiple placements, in hopes of bringing along their relatives back in the Philippines to their dream destination.

Failing to get her arrested for fraud, the applicants took their case to the Small Claims Tribunal, where Ylagan sent representatives to contest the claims, while she slipped out to the Philippines in mid-July 2016.

Before leaving, she filed a complaint with the Hong Kong police against a business associate she named as “William Clinton James”, who she claimed, was the one who made her do the recruitment for the bogus jobs.

Ylagan said Clinton James made her send nearly $8 million cash to unknown people in Burkina Faso, on the promise that he had jobs waiting for her recruits. For her effort, she was supposed to get a British passport, 15 plane tickets to London, and a chance to explore business opportunities in the United Kingdom.

At the Tribunal, about two dozen claimants were awarded their claims until Ylagan, though a representative, succeeded in getting all the claims transferred to the District Court early last year.

A TV news report in the Philippines about the cases pending against her in Hong Kong succeeded in flushing Ylagan out of hiding in Manila. She returned to Hong Kong in December last year, and immediately went to the police to file another complaint; this time, against her ertswhile friend, Ody Apostol Lai, who allegedly used deception to get a flat formerly owned by Ylagan and her late husband transferred in her name.

The two-bedroom Aberdeen flat, which costs around $6.5 million at market rates, is being sought by Ylagan’s applicants for attachment so their claims could be satisfied. The applicants have been granted Legal Aid in pursuing their case against Ylagan.

The next hearing of the claims before the District Court has been set for May this year.

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