Police in the Philippines have arrested 41 Chinese and two Malaysian nationals in connection with the kidnapping of a 48-year-old Singaporean woman from the Solaire Casino Resort in Manila on Monday.
Wu Yan, believed to be a high-stakes tourist gambler, was rescued by police from a condo in the city the following day.
Authorities said the suspects they detained were members of a loan-shark syndicate targeting foreign high-rollers. Eleven similar cases have been reported since 2015, according to police.
“The group was believed to be responsible for a series of kidnapping incidents perpetrated against foreign nationals who are high roller casino players in recent months,” Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes told local reporters.
According to Balmes, the victim was losing heavily at Solaire’s VIP baccarat tables when she was “befriended” by the two Malaysian suspects, who lent her money to keep playing.
They later invited Wu to another casino, but instead took her to an apartment where she was physically abused and forced to record a ransom video. A copy of the video was shown to family members with a demand for an undisclosed sum of money to secure her release.
“(Wu Yan) was held, deprived of her right to liberty and was beaten and threatened by her kidnappers who demanded 80,000 for her release,” Balmes said.
The three suspects were charged with kidnapping on Thursday, and were presented before television cameras in orange T-shirts as national police chief General Ronald Dela Rosa lectured the detainees and swore to crack down on the high-stakes kidnappings.
“You are free to come, enjoy gambling, but you are not free to commit crime when you are here in the Philippines,” he told the suspects before they were returned to jail.
The Philippines has become something of a popular casino hub in recent years, but they now also are fighting an increasingly violent reputation. Government officials fear that kidnapping incidents like this one, and last month’s deadly arson attack on Resorts World Manila, will keep wealthy foreigners away from the country’s high-stakes tables.
On June 2, gambling addict Jessie Javier Carlos walked into Resorts World armed with an M-4 assault rifle and three liters of gasoline, which he used to torch gaming tables and slots machine chairs on the casino floor, resulting in the deaths of 36 casino patrons and employees.
The Solaire casino, which is owned by Bloomberry Resorts, issued a statement this week saying their staff was cooperating with authorities to keep loan sharks off their property.