The Philippines authorities were not able to trace the exact location of the $81-million stolen money from Bangladesh Bank’s account because of the country’s ‘strict bank secrecy and weak anti-money laundering act’ as hindrances to reach a meaningful probe, reported Philippines media on Wednesday.
After five hours of questioning, the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on Tuesday got frustrated with Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation Jupiter, Makati City branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito and RCBC president and CEO Lorenzo Tan for invoking bank secrecy and their right against self-incrimination, reports Rappler.com.
Anti-Money Laundering Council executive director Julia Bacay-Abad also expressed her frustrations during the hearing, conceding that ‘the money trail ended at casinos. It’s a dead end. Non-inclusion of casino in AMLA just increased the probability of money laundering in the Philippines.’
The law, which was first introduced in 2001, left casinos off the list of entities required to report suspicious transactions to the AMLC.
‘What is important here is that casinos should be covered by AMLC. You see, we are having a difficult time with the investigation now. Other nations are now saying: Philippines, you are too risky to deal with. You have very weak AMLA laws,’ senator Teofisto Guingona told reporters after the hearing.
Senator Sergio Osmena, author of AMLA, said: ‘It’s like we are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel…It is high time to revisit AMLA and bank secrecy laws.’
AMLC member and Insurance Commissioner Emmanuel Dooc said a stronger anti-money laundering law should be implemented to reach a meaningful probe.
Bacay-Abad said the stolen funds were moved to four RCBC bank accounts that were opened in May 2015 and had remained idle until the transfers of BB money were made on February 5.
The accounts were named under Michael F Cruz, Jessie C Lagrosas, Alfred S Vergara, and Enrico T Vasquez, who were later found ‘fictitious.’
After the transfer to the four bank accounts, Bacay-Abad said the funds were immediately withdrawn and deposited under the account of Filipino-Chinese businessman William S Go, who was also at the Senate and denied any involvement. He claimed he never opened a bank account in RCBC Jupiter, Makati City branch.
The funds were converted into pesos and delivered in cash tranches to a WeiKang Xu by remittance firm Philrem Service Corporation, the remittance firm’s president Salud Bautista told the Senate.
A representative of Solaire Resort and Casino confirmed this and said Xu is a registered junket casino operator.
When asked where the stolen money is now, Bacay-Abad said ‘the last information we have is that it ended in casinos, which are out of our jurisdiction.’
Bloomberg reported RCBC manager Deguito will be questioned in a closed-door Senate hearing on Thursday (today) as the government expands its probe into how the funds were laundered through the country’s casinos.
Deguito ‘is a key player here because if you don’t have the cooperation of the branch manager, this could not have been done,’ senator Serge Osmena told reporters on Wednesday. ‘We have barely scratched the surface in this investigation.’
In broadening the probe to the casinos, Thomas Arasi, president and chief operating officer at Bloomberry Resorts Corp, is expected to be questioned at the hearing on Thursday. Silverio Benny Tan, corporate secretary at Bloomberry, said at the hearing on Tuesday his casino received funds from a local remittance company. Cristino Naguiat, head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp, which manages local casinos, will also attend the hearing, Osmena said.
‘We’re looking for electronic trail and the casinos may be able to tell us,’ the senator said. ‘I want to know where the money went and in whose account it was credited.’
The crime of money laundering is punishable by a maximum jail term of 14 years in the Philippines.
Deguito has vowed to disclose all during the closed door session of the Senate committee.
An accused businessman, William So Go, meanwhile, implicated RCBC branch manager Deguito in the alleged scheme to launder $81 million, saying she confessed she had done something wrong by opening an account in his name and even apologised for it.
It was an account in Go’s name where the $81 million in questionable funds was consolidated before being transferred to casino accounts. But he has denied owning the account.
Go, appearing before the Senate committee hearing, narrated his February 22 meeting with Deguito, facilitated by an East West Bank manager he identified as Allan Penalosa.
It was Penalosa who first invited him to a meeting and even asked him if he wanted to earn ‘200 million.’
Penalosa told him he could not explain it fully and then brought him to meet Deguito at Mary Grace restaurant in Serendra at Bonifacio Global City.
Go said that when he met Deguito, whom he had known when she used to be a manager at an East West Bank branch at BGC, she immediately apologised to him.
‘Upon seating, she told me, “Sir, I’m sorry. I did something wrong to you. I opened an account for you at RCBC”,’ he recalled her as saying.
Go was surprised and asked her why she did that when he had no transaction with her and never gave her any directive to open such an account.
She apologised again and then told him a problem had arisen because a big amount entered the account.
‘I was shocked,’ he said.
Deguito then narrated the scheme to him, telling him that the money came from Bangladesh and was transferred to the account that she had opened. The money then went through remittance firm Philrem Service Corp and was converted to pesos.
He said he could not understand the whole scheme as he found it confusing, but told the RCBC manager to clear his name.
‘I told her, I don’t care about that, my demand is you clear my name,’ he said.
Go has sought an explanation from the RCBC and has asked the help of the National Bureau of Investigation in looking into the bogus RCBC accounts.
Businessman Kim Wong, among those being investigated for alleged involvement in the money laundering scheme, failed to appear in a Senate hearing Tuesday because he is seeking medical treatment abroad.
Wong was one of the resource persons invited to the hearing after his name cropped up in relation to an investigation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
At the hearing, the committee secretariat said Wong’s lawyer sent a letter saying his client would be unable to join the inquiry because he has been out of the country.
The secretariat did not specify the illness for which Wong sought treatment.
The committee was also told that four other persons being investigated in connection with the scheme, and whom the Senate was supposed to invite, could not be located because they had fictitious addresse
source : the new age