Anti-laundering body sues RCBC manager

THE Anti-Money Laundering Council filed a complaint against a branch manager of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. for aiding the withdrawal of $80.9 million stolen by hackers from Bangladesh’s foreign reserves ahead of a Senate hearing  Tuesday.

Maia Santos Deguito of RCBC’s Jupiter, Makati branch, was accused by the agency in a complaint dated March 11 for allowing the withdrawal of the funds at a branch in the country’s financial district on Feb. 5 and 9 despite requests from Bangladesh to stop the transfers.

Bangladesh central bank governor Atiur Rahman resigned over the case  on Tuesday.

“At the time she allowed the withdrawals, respondent Deguito already knew that the money was stolen from Bangladesh Bank as there was already a request for stop payment,” the council said. The branch manager also failed to verify the identities of four other people named in the suit who withdrew the funds and who are believed to be fictitious.

Senate hearing. Lorenzo V. Tan, president and CEO of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., testifies during the  Senate hearing on the $100 million that was allegedly laundered in the Philippines on Tuesday. At right is Maia Santos Deguito, manager of the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street, Makati. LINO SANTOS
Deguito’s lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, declined to comment, saying he hasn’t seen a copy of the complaint. Dequito denied any wrongdoing during an interview with radio dzMM and said she will testify at the Senate hearing.

Only $68,305 of the funds remained when RCBC put the accounts on hold, according to the complaint. The complaint was filed at the Justice Department. The crime of money laundering is punishable by a maximum jail term of 14 years.

At the Senate hearing, Deguito declined to answer questions, invoking her right against self-incrimination, given the cases filed against her by the AMLC.

She offered, however, to tell everything she knew about the transaction in an executive session off the record.

RCBC president and chief executive officer Lorenzo Tan said the bank is conducting its own investigation into the alleged money laundering, but denied any knowledge of the transaction.

“On behalf of the bank, we vehemently deny and disavow any and all knowledge, complicity or participation in the alleged money laundering of $100 million in the Philippines,” Tan said in a statement read before the Senate session.

Tan also said that the branch manager of the bank should be the one to comply with the stop payment request.

The AMLC said a stop payment request was sent on  Feb. 8, a holiday here.

In the Senate hearing, RCBC anti-money laundering officer Laurinda Rogero confirmed that the bank responded to the US Fed at  7:45 p.m. on Feb 9.

“I cannot confirm nor deny the request, but as a general rule, the branch manager should comply when there’s a freeze order,” Tan said.

Tan also denied knowing Deguito personally.

“To set the record straight, I do not personally know Ms. Deguito and have neither had nor maintained any relationship or direct dealing with her. More importantly, I have no personal knowledge of much less personal participation, in any of the transactions that are subject of this inquiry,” Tan said.

The Justice Department is set to conduct its preliminary investigation into the case.

Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said the AMLC complaint has been assigned to Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra for preliminary investigation to determine whether there is probable cause to warrant the filing of the criminal charges of money laundering.

Arellano said the investigating prosecutor will issue a subpoena on Deguito and other respondents in the complaint and set hearings.

In its complaint, the AMLC Deputy Director Vencent Salido asked the DoJ to indict Deguito and four other respondents—Michael Francisco Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara, and Enrico Teodoro Vasquez, the supposed owners of the bank accounts where the $80,884,641.63 stolen by hackers from the Bangladesh Bank went.

The council included the four individuals in the complaint despite an initial finding that these names might be fictitious. The Filipino-Chinese businessman, William Go, to whom the amount was reportedly transferred before the money was laundered in local casinos, which were not included among the respondents.

The AMLC said Deguito, manager of the bank’s branch in Jupiter Street in Makati City, approved the opening of the bank accounts on May 15, 2015 based on fictitious identity documents.

The complaint said the names were not really the four unidentified persons who appeared in the bank for the opening of the fake accounts.

The council alleged that the branch manager facilitated the act of 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.”

“Moreover, verification on the employment offices declared by the four [unidentified persons] during the account opening revealed that there were no ‘Cruz’ et al. that were connected therewith,” the complaint stated.

The AMLC said that aside from failing to verify the identities of the four depositors  within nine months  from the time the accounts were opened, she also allowed them to withdraw the stolen money from Bangladesh Bank. Deguito has already denied the allegation in the complaint.

Deguito, who was barred from leaving the country last week after the DoJ issued a lookout bulletin order against her, also denied approaching Go or offering him P10 million in exchange for keeping his silence.

Go denied any knowledge of the dollars from Bangladesh Bank that were allegedly consolidated into his account, converted into pesos and move to the accounts of casino operators.

Deguito earlier admitted she facilitated the opening of the accounts of Michael Francisco Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara, Enrico Teodoro Vasquez, which remained dormant until Feb. 5, 2016 when unknown hackers managed to transfer $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank to these accounts.

During the Senate hearing, Senator Teofisto Guingona III asked Dequito if this did not set off any alarm bells, but the branch manager invoked her right against self-incrimination and declined to answer.

Tan, on the other hand, said he could not talk specifically about the case because of bank secrecy laws, but said the bank had launched its own investigation.

The refusal by the RCBC executives to answer questions angered Guingona and Senator Sergio Osmeña III.

“What are you hiding?” he demanded at one point of the bank officials.

He also said the money laundering could lead to the Philippines being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, a move that would hurt overseas Filipino workers and the economy.

As the Senate began its probe, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon stressed the need for Congress to pass legislation that would strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.

Bangladesh Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith announced the resignation of the chief of the country’s central bank, Atiur Rahman.

The theft from an account Bangladesh held with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has raised alarm over the security of the country’s foreign exchange reserves of over $27 billion. The hackers attempted to steal almost $1 billion and were only prevented from taking more than they did because of a basic typing error, the Bangladesh Bank’s deputy governor said last week.

Rahman, an economist, was appointed as the governor of the Bangladesh Bank in 2009 and had been due to retire in August. 

His resignation comes after Muhith revealed that he was only informed of the losses around a month after they occurred on  Feb. 5.

“Bangladesh Bank had the audacity not to inform me. I am certainly going to take action against it,” the minister told reporters  on Sunday.

As details of the scandal emerged last week Rahman, 64, flew to India to attend an International Monetary Fund meeting, leaving the more junior central bank officials scrambling to explain how the hackers managed to take such large sums.

They stole $81 million from the account on  Feb. 5, transferring the cash electronically to accounts in the Philippines.

The hackers, who bombarded the New York bank with dozens of transfer requests, had been attempting to steal a further $850 million, but the bank’s security systems and typing errors in some requests prevented the full theft.

Reports said the hackers misspelled the name of a Sri Lankan non-governmental organization, triggering a check of the request which raised the alarm. – 

Topics: Anti-laundering , RCBC makati branch , AMLC
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