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Dirty money watchdog files more charges for Bangladesh heist

Posted on November 23, 2016

THE ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING Council (AMLC) has charged more former and incumbent Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) officers after the watchdog’s investigation unearthed their liability in the Philippine entry of funds stolen from Bangladesh last February.

The AMLC filed a 97-page money laundering complaint against former bank treasurer retail banking group head Raul Victor B. Tan, national sales director Ismael S. Reyes, regional sales director Brigitte R. Capiña, district sales director Nestor O. Pineda, branch customer service head Romualdo S. Agarrado and branch senior customer relations officer Angela Ruth S. Torres on Nov. 18 before the Department of Justice.

“The AMLC Secretariat’s investigation showed that respondent officers and employees of RCBC facilitated the suspicious transactions... by failing to conduct the requisite investigations and inquiries into the accounts, their beneficiaries and the transactions, attributable to their knowledge about the unlawful origins... or their deliberate refusal to know the unlawful origins of the funds,” the complaint read.

AMLC was referring to the transfer of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to four accounts with RCBC’s Jupiter Street branch in Makati City, from which the money was then withdrawn, transferred and spent to play in local casinos where the money trail vanished.

Mr. Tan resigned from his post weeks after the heist, but not before RCBC cleared him of any wrongdoing. However, the AMLC said Mr. Tan failed to conduct “enhanced due diligence” after he ordered the lifting of the hold status on the questioned accounts despite “red flags” on the big fund transfers, noting that he also “refused or failed to order a probe” on the suspicious transactions.

National sales director Reyes was said to have committed “serious omissions” after he failed to conduct a deeper inquiry into the legitimacy of the bank accounts involved and for pushing through with transactions with remittance firm PhilRem Service Corp. despite a recall request for the money from Bangladesh, while Ms. Capiña was faulted for relying on branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito’s assurance that the funds were legitimate. Ms. Deguito was among the first ones charged by the AMLC for her alleged complicity in the crime.

Mr. Pineda was charged for “inexplicable passivity” and “negligence” in probing and closing the questionable accounts, as it was his job to resolve cases of returned letters that had been sent to the fictitious account holders.

A case was also filed by the AMLC against Mr. Agarrado, who had testified against Ms. Deguito in Senate, for approving “large cash withdrawals” and fund transfers in the absence of the account holder’s signature and despite a recall order from RCBC.

Ms. Torres, who was dismissed in March alongside her boss Ms. Deguito, also faces money laundering raps after she processed the opening of the accounts without the presence of the supposed depositors, with AMLC noting that she “implicitly admitted that she was involved in the transactions involving the money stolen from Bangladesh Bank.”

AMLC investigators said the actions taken by the suspects pointed to the presence of all elements of money laundering, namely: the presence of dirty money, knowledge that the funds were drawn through unlawful activity and their so-called “acts of facilitation.”

Former RCBC president Lorenzo V. Tan, who also resigned in May, was not included in the charge sheet.

In a statement, RCBC said it has yet to see a copy of the AMLC complaint, but noted that it expects the charges to be dismissed.

“We have yet to receive a copy of the AMLC complaint/s but going by our independent internal investigation early this year, we believe that no head-office official was involved in the transaction that was initiated and carried out by key people in our Jupiter Makati branch,” the statement quoted RCBC President and Chief Executive Officer Gil A. Buenaventura as saying.

“We welcome the charges as an opportunity to conclusively prove that our executives acted properly and had no knowledge or participation in any money laundering. We are confident that the cases filed against these RCBC officers will be dismissed.”

To date, only $15 million of the $81-million loot has been returned to Bangladesh earlier this month, nine months since hackers coursed the stolen funds to Manila.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas also imposed a P1-billion fine on RCBC last August as administrative sanction for having failed to comply with established safeguards against money-laundering. The bank settled half of the penalty that month. -- Melissa Luz T. Lopez