The new chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board in the Philippines came under fire yesterday for his alleged links to a former fugitive who was extradited to Manila by Hong Kong authorities to stand trial on drug charges a decade ago. Former senator Vicente Sotto assumed the post on Tuesday amid criticism that the appointment was 'political payback' and he was unfit for the job. Mr Sotto asked President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for the position, which carries the rank of cabinet minister, after failing to win a Senate seat under her party banner last year. His connection with Alfredo Tiongco 'certainly puts a cloud on his appointment', said Florencio Abad, who along with 80 other former senior government officials recently criticised Mrs Arroyo over 'questionable appointments', including that of Mr Sotto. Mr Tiongco, alias Fred Co, an ethnic Chinese, fled to Hong Kong in 1997 after authorities raided his residence in suburban Quezon City, seizing 419 grams of ephedrine and high-powered firearms and arresting Alfredo Dulay, a policeman who turned out to be attached to the office of Mr Sotto, then still a senator. The gun permits were also traced to Mr Sotto's chief security officer, Fernando Vinculado. He claimed he had sent Dulay to 'probe Tiongco so as to protect the senator from assisting the wrong personalities'. Mr Sotto confirmed he once sold a car to Mr Tiongco and received a cheque from him for 200,000 pesos (HK$34,350), which he used to publish his book against drugs. He also wrote twice to the local governments secretary, the late Robert Barbers, to give Mr Tiongco police protection amid death threats and vouched for Mr Tiongco's 'character'. Mr Sotto, who at the time chaired the Senate committee against illegal drugs, said he never knew Mr Tiongco had been on the most-wanted list of drug traffickers since 1995. In December 1993, suitcases containing 80.5kg of methamphetamine hydrochloride were seized from Mr Tiongco's fishing boat. Mr Tiongco fled to Hong Kong in July 1997 but was deported to Manila in 1998 after the president at the time, Fidel Ramos, filed for extradition. He was acquitted of both drug charges. The judge ruled the ephedrine found in his residence could not be used as evidence because the raid was illegal. Another judge said Ice was merely found on Mr Tiongco's fishing boat and not in his 'physical and actual possession'. Despite the acquittal, Vicente Romano of the civil-society group Black and White Movement said 'appointing Sotto is not the best solution to alleviate the drug problem ... it's political payback'. Mr Sotto could not be reached for comment. However, TV network GMA recently quoted him as 'vehemently denying' any links to drug syndicates: 'I was not, am not and will never be associated with any aspect of the manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal drugs and substances.' Mrs Arroyo's chief aide, Eduardo Ermita, said Mr Sotto was chosen because he co-authored the present narcotics law and was a long-time anti-drugs crusader. The controversy caused Mrs Arroyo to drop Mr Sotto as her vice-presidential running mate in 1997. At that time Mr Sotto said: 'Assuming, for the sake of argument, that my office had been penetrated by shadowy characters, I urge the police agencies to apply the law and prosecute criminals, regardless of their office affiliation.'