‘Bangladesh funds can’t be recovered’

THE Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. said  Wednesday  it is impossible to recover $29 million allegedly stolen from Bangladesh after the funds were coursed through local casinos.

Testifying before the Senate, Pagcor Chairman Cristino Naguiat said the money—a portion of the $81 million that the Bank of Bangladesh reported stolen—had already been combined with other funds.

“We don’t know—and it wasn’t $81 million that went to us. We can’t tell where the money is because it has been co-mingled with the capital from other accounts,” Naguiat told reporters in Filipino after the hearing  Tuesday.

Pagcor Chairman Cristino Naguiat
He said it was the banks that are supposed to be gatekeepers against illegal transactions.

“We rely on the banks. We assume all the funds they release is clean money,” he said.

He said while the CCTV cameras could track bettors, the chips were probably cashed once the money was laundered.

“Why gamble with it when there is a chance of losing the money? The money has already been scrubbed,” he added.

The Pagcor chairman said they were willing to have the casinos covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

“We’re not opposing it. We’re open to being included. The only question is what the threshold will be,” he said, adding that investor confidence would not be undermined by such a move.

The Justice Department said  Wednesday  it would summon Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. bank manager Maia Santos-Deguito to its preliminary investigation of money laundering charges filed against her and four others by the Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra said a subpoena would be issued to Deguito, who is expected to file a counter-affidavit during the first hearing on  April 19.

In the complaint, AMLC deputy director Vencent Salido sought the indictment of 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 $81 million stolen by hackers from the Bangladesh Bank went.

The AMLC included the four as respondents despite an initial finding that the names might be fictitious.

Businessman William Go, to whom the amount was reportedly transferred before the money was laundered in local casinos, was not included as a respondent.

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

The council said the names were not really those of the four unidentified persons who showed up at the bank to open the accounts.

The council alleged that Deguito facilitated the act of money laundering when she allowed the unidentified persons to open their bank accounts.

She also failed to verify the identities of the four depositors with nine months of the time the accounts were opened, and allowed them to withdraw the money stolen from Bangladesh Bank.

Deguito has denied the allegations. She also denied approaching Go or offering him P10 million in exchange for his silence.

Deguito was prevented from leaving the country last week after the Justice Department issued a lookout bulletin against her based on the AMLC complaint.

Presidential candidate Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago warned that the country could become a money laundering hub and vowed to certify as urgent a bill expanding the coverage of the Amla if she is elected president.

Santiago said the $81 million fiasco highlighted the urgent need to require casinos to report questionable deals to the AMLC.

“If the casino sector remains outside of the coverage of AMLA, the Philippines risks becoming the world’s money laundering capital,” the senator said. – With Macon Ramos Araneta

Topics: Bangladesh funds , money laundering , AMLC
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