Biggies’ links to $81-M heist money launder surface

Bigger names are likely to be dragged as being highly involved in the hijacking of Bangladesh central bank’s funds, by some $81 million, that was reportedly laundered in the country last month, and businessman Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong appears to be one of them, Senate probers said.
William So Go was implicated by the Jupiter branch manager’s assistant, Angela Torres, who contradicted the claim of Romualdo Agarrado that he saw the P20 million in cash brought to the car of Maia Santos-Deguito, the  bank branch manager.
Torres pointed to the P20 million cash given to Go, saying Go had signed a withdrawal slip for the amount, approved by Deguito, who along with her assistant, counted the money and handed the cash to Go. Go has denied this.
Lead investigators, Senators Teofisto “TG” Guingona and Sergio Osmeña, as well as some of their colleagues, are not inclined to buy the notion it is only  Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch manager Deguito who is said to be a “key” player, as what the bank executives have been trying to impress upon the senators during the second day of the investigation on the issue.
“I think Deguito is not the most to blame in this particular situation, not the most guilty party. She is one of the many participants, well, semi-major but not the major. There was an orchestrator and that looks like Kim Wong,” Osmeña, vice chair of the blue ribbon committee, the panel inquiring into what could probably be considered the  biggest cyber banking heist in Asia.
Guingona, blue ribbon chair, has the same assessment even as RCBC president and chief executive officer (CEO) Lorenzo V. Tan is being implicated by Deguito to have supposed links with Kim Wong, who is said to have received part of the stolen funds based on the initial probe by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
“There are allegations to that but it might be premature to say that. Kin Wong came out prominently,” he said.
“It seems right now that she (Deguito) was, to say the least, negligent but there are bigger persons behind this whole thing  and the names are coming out already. There are allegations of this,” he added.
Kam Sin Wong’s name, reports said, appeared as the incorporator of Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. Ltd., a company that operates a hotel-casino at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone,  from which $20 million out of the $81 million had been deposited.
Deguito, during Thursday’s continuing public hearing at the Senate, was prompted to admit to Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile that it was supposedly Kim Wong who “referred” the opening of the fictitious bank accounts in her branch in Jupiter St., Makati City which reportedly received the hacked funds from Bangladesh and later transferred to the alleged fake account of William So Go.
Go was alleged to have ordered the transfer of the funds through remittance firm Philrem Service Corp. to the bank accounts of a certain Weikang Xu, believed to be a casino junket operator and to Eastern Hawaii as well as Bloomberry Resorts Corp., the company behind Solaire Resort & Casino.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto shared the observation of his colleagues as there remain a number of missing links.
“I want to know how deep the role is of the personalities mentioned by the bank manager on this anomaly, because a banker once told me that in the banking industry, the lion does not eat alone,” Sotto said.
Osmeña said there are still a number of “shadowy areas” such as the role of casinos, junkeeters and other companies involved in money and banking industry which now have them facing  a blank wall as there seems to be no trace on where and with the stolen money ended up.
“Obviously something like this is not given to the junketeer, because there was no junket. This is stolen money. It involves our banking sector, our financial sector and our reputation with the rest of the world. I think it is in our national interest. This is a scandal. The biggest banking heist in the nation and $81 million are not small potatoes and the money has been  stolen from the central bank of another nation so it’s not private money. It’s public money,” he said.
Guingona said their probe is far from being wrapped up as they seem to be getting deeper into the case, especially as new names have been coming out lately.
“It is very controversial and we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this. It’s getting deeper and deeper and both sides are firing missiles at each other,” he said.
Still, the blue ribbon chair said there’s yet to be any concrete evidence to show that RCBC senior executives are involved although at least two names are being mentioned and he would not specify at this point.
“(But) it’s an eye opener and at least we know, according to her (Dequito) story. We have to vet it with other testimonies, we know now she was not (involved), and it seems from her story - I want to emphasize - and she was just used and there is a prime mover for all of this and he is here in the Philippines,” said Guingona.
“It has to be syndicate. It’s obvious it is a syndicate. This can’t be done by just one person.  You steal money from a central bank and then pass through the federal reserve, then get it and lose it immediately. That’s a large syndicate, sophisticated syndicate,” he said.
In a related development, some overseas Filipino workers (OFW) groups are poised to petition before the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to look deeper into the financial transactions of Philrem.
OFW advocate and senatorial candidate Susan Ople backed the move saying that such probe is needed considering that the remittance agent had admitted to Senate probers that it handles remittances of OFWs as well, aside from converting and delivering huge amounts of dollars to casino junket operators.
“We are concerned that because of PhilRem’s participation in the controversial money laundering scam involving foreign funds, this  may trigger a crackdown on other more legitimate OFW remittance centers throughout the world. The BSP and SEC must step in and ensure that all of PhilRem’s other dealings are aboveboard,” Ople stressed.
Salud Bautista, president of PhilRem, a money transfer firm, claimed Deguito instructed her to convert into pesos part of the $81 million stolen funds from the Bangladesh Bank, and deliver it in tranches to a registered casino junket operator, Weikang Xu.
The petition will be submitted on Monday to the heads of the SEC and BSP with signatures coming from OFWs in Asia and the Middle East. A full-scale probe is needed to determine whether PhilRem had been using its remittance services to OFWs as a front for money laundering operations for quite some time.
“When PhilRem’s owner Salud Bautista refused to sign the bank waiver during yesterday’s Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, it bolstered our suspicion that the company has a lot to hide. What is unfortunate is that this company can bring down the remittance industry with it unless government acts to suspend PhilRem while under investigation,” Ople said.
Even prior to the money laundering scam, 17  countries have already cracked down on Philippine-owned local remittance and bank remitting companies servicing OFWs. These countries and territories are: Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Italy, New Zealand, United States of America, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Brunei, Austria, Cyprus, Saipan, Francis, Ireland, Spain and Germany.
The foreign banks in these countries where the bank accounts of said remittance companies and banks were lodged in complained that dealing with Philippine banks and companies is high-risk due to the potential for money laundering.
“PhilRem apologized to the government of Bangladesh but failed to recognize that its actions also put at risk the hard-earned remittances of our workers. They deserve to be suspended, and deprived of the economic privilege to serve our modern-day heroes,” Ople said.
DoJ gets into the picture
Government lawyers have formally asked RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito to appear before a preliminary investigation on the money laundering charges filed against her and four others by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
In its subpoena, investigating Asst. State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra required Deguito to appear before the DoJ in its hearing on April 12 and 19 at 10 a.m. and  answer AMLC’s complaint.
Likewise subpoenaed were Michael Francisco Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara, and Enrico Teodoro Vasquez,who are the supposed owners of the bank accounts which received $80,884,641.63 stolen by hackers from the Bangladesh Bank.
In its nine-page complaint, AMLC deputy director Vencent Salido sought the indictment of the Deguito and the four others for allegedly facilitating the laundering of the stolen money
Businessman, William Go, to whom the amount was reportedly transferred before the money was laundered in local casinos, was not included among the respondents.
AMLC says  Deguito, manager of the bank’s branch in Jupiter Street in Makati City, facilitated money laundering when she “allowed the opening of the subject bank accounts on 15 May 2015 based on identity documents that were verified to be fictitious.”
The AMLC said that aside from the fact that Deguito failed to perform her responsibility of verifying the identities of the four depositors within nine months from the time the accounts were opened, she allowed them to withdraw the stolen money from the Bangladesh Bank. She also denied approaching Go or offering him P10-million in exchange for keeping his silence.
She says all the transaction in her branch had the approval of RCBC president Lorenzo Tan.

With Benjamin B. Pulta

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