Senate to begin inquiry into money-laundering

Posted on March 15, 2016

THE SENATE begins today its inquiry into the alleged money-laundering of $100 million that has dragged into this controversy one of the country’s leading financial institutions.

The inquiry this afternoon, to be led by the Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee, is expected to have, among its invited resource persons, President and CEO Lorenzo V. Tan of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) and the bank’s Jupiter Street branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito. They, among others, have been in the center of the controversy over the estimated $81 million processed through the said RCBC branch that formed part of millions of dollars hacked from the overseas accounts of the central bank of Bangladesh.

Mr. Tan has confirmed his attendance in today’s hearing, according to the office of Senator Sergio R. Osmeña III. So have Ms. Deguito and her lawyer.

Among others invited, including officials of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, were the dollar-account holders allegedly involved in the $81-million transfer to the Jupiter branch: Michael F. Cruz, William S. Go, Jessie C. Lagrosas, Enrico T. Vasquez, Alfred S. Vergara, and Kam Sin Wong.

There is no word yet about their attendance as of this reporting. But Mr. Go through his counsel has maintained his signature was forged in the dollar account in his name.

Mr. Tan, for his part, has disputed Ms. Deguito’s claim that her actions in facilitating the money transfer was in accordance with instructions and vetting from RCBC’s head office.

In an interview with ANC’s Anthony T. Taberna, Jr., she maintained Mr. Go’s signature for opening his dollar account was genuine, as this was verified with the signature of his peso account.

She maintained Mr. Tan knew about the $81 million, according to colleagues from the head office.

“And I would presume [he knows] because the trading of the dollar was allowed between Feb. 5, Feb. 9, Feb. 10, until I think [Feb.] 11,” she said of the dates when the dollars were allegedly converted into pesos.

“And Feb. 9 was the date of the recall of funds. They had accommodated the trading of the dollar,” she told ANC in an interview marked by vehemence on her part. “They destroyed my life. They destroyed the lives of my family.”

For his part, Mr. Tan’s lawyer Francis Lim said in a statement: “Ms. Maia Deguito’s admission that she opened an account for Mr. William Go at the RCBC Jupiter branch where she is the manager on orders of Kim Wong is solid proof [Ms.] Deguito violated bank rules and processes, and committed a serious crime.”

“[Ms.] Deguito made the admission in a TV interview today, March 14,” the statement said of the ANC interview.

“This is a major break in the case and could prove devastating for Ms. Deguito because nobody can legally open an account for somebody else. Perhaps realizing she made a huge mistake, she is now saying the specimen signature of Mr. Go was not forged.”

The statement also said Ms. Deguito “now has at least two persons contradicting her statements: [Messrs.] Go and Tan,” adding that her “’assum[ing]’ that [Mr.] Tan knew about [the transfer] because of the big amount involved [is] an about-face that [is to be] welcomed.”

Mr. Lim’s statement said the admission “will definitely influence the discussion [today] when the Senate... conducts a hearing about the supposed money laundering issue involving the $81-million.”

In an interview last week on this controversy, Mr. Osmeña, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions, and Currencies, said: “You can expect that the Senate committee members will be asking penetrating questions to be able to trace how this happened, what should have been done to prevent it, what we could have instituted or amended, what we should have included in the law to help minimize such an occurrence happening.” -- with Alden M. Monzon