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Casinos, bitcoin in AMLC’s sights

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REUTERS

THE ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING Council (AMLC) is bringing casinos and digital currencies into focus this year as it tightens its watch on dirty money.

AMLC Secretariat Executive Director Mel Georgie B. Racela said cash conversions into poker chips as well as virtual currencies (VCs) are now part of the agency’s expanded coverage, which is expected to plug gaps in the law against money laundering.

Mr. Racela noted that the six-month period for casino operators to register with the AMLC began this month, with compliance expected to significantly reduce opportunities for criminals to launder illegally obtained funds at gaming tables.

Republic Act No. 10927, enacted in 2017, required all casinos — including Internet and ship-based gaming facilities — to report daily transactions worth at least P5 million to the AMLC.

The financial intelligence body published RA 10927’s implementing rules last week, giving casino firms until mid-December to sign up with the AMLC’s online platform for transaction reports.

The AMLC’s National Risk Assessment 2015-2016 cited a “high” money laundering threat among casinos and other money service businesses, especially in the wake of the $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist in which stolen funds vanished without a trace at gaming tables.

Mr. Racela said he believes the threat level could ease as the new rules take root, given that casinos are now subject to know-your-customer rules and are required to report suspicious transactions to the watchdog.

“If we make a reassessment of our national risk insofar as casinos are concerned, we believe that we will be able to reduce this from high risk to moderate,” Mr. Racela said yesterday during the inaugural symposium of the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists Manila chapter.

The AMLC official said it is “absolutely” doable to minimize risks attached to casinos in the next round of evaluations due sometime in 2020, as this would now factor in the latest reforms.

Already, casinos have reported that they have client records for 80% of their players, Mr. Racela said, adding that the remaining fifth were walk-in clients who in turn account for just 30% of the revenues of the sector.

“We’re talking about minimal risks,” he said.

A study of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that earnings from criminal activity were equivalent to about 3.6% of global output based on 2009 figures, with around $1.6 trillion said to be laundered worldwide.

Kelly Bird, country director of the Asian Development Bank, said the Philippines has “closed major gaps” in local laws but said that the private sector should exert equal effort in addressing this problem.

BITCOIN WATCH
The AMLC is also setting sights on virtual currency exchanges.

Mr. Racela said the watchdog hopes to effectively check this “new business” as transaction volumes pick up.

“The Council has approved our study on the suspicious transaction reports submitted by our virtual currency exchanges,” Mr. Racela said, even as he noted that it’s “still too early to say” whether digital currency transactions are emerging as an arena for money launderers.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has stepped up measures to regulate businesses that convert cash and digital currencies, requiring them to submit customer data and transaction reports to the AMLC. BSP Deputy Governor Chuchi G. Fonacier said there has lately been a substantial hike in approvals of virtual currency conversions, reflecting robust activity in the sector. The data is based on reports of the three VC exchanges that have secured licenses from the central bank. — Melissa Luz T. Lopez