As much as $447 million or P22.69 billion passing through the Bureau of Customs, was laundered into the country by 47 persons, including Filipinos, from September 2019 until February 2020, Senator Richard Gordon said Tuesday.
In a privilege speech Tuesday, Gordon said that 46.98 percent of the amount or $210 million (P10.6 billion) was brought into the country by Chinese nationals, mostly workers in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs).
Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, is set to conduct a Senate probe on the money-laundering crimes and other nefarious activities committed by POGO workers in the Philippines.
Money laundering, Gordon said, is often associated with gambling.
Gordon lamented that it appears that authorities turned a blind eye to the nefarious activities that come with the presence of POGOs in exchange for a few billion in tax revenues or perhaps because of “pastillas”
or any other form bribery may take.
He said the influx of suspiciously large amounts of foreign currencies over a short period of time failed to alarm the Anti-Money Laundering Council.
The reasons given for the inflows were foreign exchange, 49.77 percent; investments, 16.23 percent; travel and casino, 15.1 percent; casino, 8.2 percent; business, 2.77 percent; travel, 1.81 percent and not specified, 6.14 percent.
The top five individuals who brought in large sums of money were: ESRodriquez- $34.6 million or P1.7 billion (45 transactions), JGRodriquez-$32.6 million or P1.6 billion (40 transactions), Mr. Chun-$26.6 million or P1.3 billion (eight transactions), Mr. Sheng, $24 million or P1.2 billion (seven transactions) and Mr. Kim–$21.6 million or P1 billion (seven transactions).
The sums involved could be used to pay off the country’s external debts amounting to P82.67 billion as of September 2019, to Australia, Canada, British Virgin Islands, and Luxembourg, Gordon said.
The same amount could be used to bankroll the government’s flagship projects like the Kaliwa Dam, New Cebu International Container Port, Pangiil Bay Project and the Chico River Pump Irrigation project, he said.
“There is no need for the Philippine government to borrow from Japan for certain flagship projects,” said Gordon.
The P22.69 billion, Gordon said can be used to buy condominium units in Bonifacio Global City, and the cities of Pasay, Makati, and Parañaque.
He said it can also be used to buy 8,400 units of high-end Toyota Hi-Ace Grandia 2020 model, 5,600 units of high-end Toyota Alpha 2020 model and more or less 6,285 units of Toyota Coaster.
These cars were being used as service vehicles of the almost 500,000 Chinese POGO workers in the country.
Leechiu Property Consultants estimated that there are around 470,000 POGO workers, much higher than the government estimate of around 150,000.
With the presence of POGO workers renting residential properties in the country, Gordon cited a spike in property values.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Gordon’s revelations would be investigated.
President Rodrigo Duterte also wants a “vigorous” investigation of the reported attempts by suspected syndicates to bring in large sums of foreign money into the country, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said Tuesday.
Dominguez issued a directive to the Bureau of Customs and the Anti-Money Laundering Council after receiving a written report from Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero about several attempts by individuals and groups to sneak in large amounts of US dollars and other foreign currency into the country using travelers arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Guerrero said that last year, an estimated $370 million or around P18.74 billion were brought into the country by two groups, identified in his report as the “Rodriguez” and the “Chinese” groups.
The BOC chief recommended to Dominguez the creation of an interagency body to keep tabs on the inflow of foreign currency through the country’s ports of entry and to recommend measures to deter the use of these funds for illegal activities.
The Bureau of Customs on Tuesday issued a statement that all foreign currencies brought into the country are legal as long as they are declared.
Foreign currency is freely importable, it is not regulated because the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) does not require import clearance or permit and foreign currency is not dutiable.
NAIA customs deputy collector for passenger’s services lawyer Ma. Lourdes Mangaong said that importation of any foreign currency is allowed and the only requirement is to declare the amount.
“We will seize the foreign currency in excess of US$10,000 when the incoming passenger refuses to declare as required by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas,” Mangaong added.
The BOC will get the full information regarding any passenger that brings in various foreign currencies and turns the information over to Anti-Money Laundering Council, Mangaong said.
She also said that BOC requires all hand-carry of arriving passengers must be X-rayed so there is no way they can smuggle in foreign currencies without declaring them. With MJ Blancaflor and Che Santos
READ: Abused POGO worker says PH government exec behind crimes
READ: Pastillas scheme: Travel firms linked to fake passports for Sino tourists
READ: Ex-DOJ chief tagged in 'pastillas'