By Vann Marlo M. Villegas
A MAKATI CITY court on Thursday convicted former Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito of eight counts of money-laundering involving $81 million stolen from Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February 2016.
Judge Cesar O. Untalan of Makati City regional trial court Branch 149 ordered Ms. Deguito to pay fine totalling $109.5 million and sentenced her to imprisonment of four to seven years for each count.
At the same time, Ms. Deguito was acquitted of one charge due to double jeopardy as she was charged twice for allowing a transaction worth $14.31 million.
The case stemmed from illegal fund transfers from the account of Bangladesh Bank with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to four accounts under fictitious names opened at RCBC’s Jupiter Street branch in Makati City. The funds were withdrawn and spent in casinos, where they disappeared. The government has been helping Bangladesh Bank trace the missing money, but so far only $15 million has been recovered from a junket operator.
In its 26-page decision, the court found that Ms. Deguito “facilitated these transactions to their full and complete implementation without any sign of hesitation.”
It also said that she must be “responsible and criminally liable” as she was the manager of RCBC Jupiter Street branch which processed the transactions.
“(H)er declaration in the open court that she has nothing to do with these transactions was a complete and comprehensive lie.”
Ms. Deguito’s legal counsel, Demetrio C. Custodio, Jr., said she will file a motion for reconsideration. “I should say that we have very good grounds to file a motion for reconsideration. We would like to point out here that this case will still follow a very long process. This is just a momentary setback in so far as Ms. Deguito is concerned,” he told reporters after the promulgation.
In a separate interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Mr. Custodio said: “There should be more people who should be more liable for this, other than a very lowly bank officer who has nothing to do with operational matters.”
He also said the former UCPB branch manager will still enjoy provisional liberty until the decision attains finality in the Supreme Court since the bail she paid does not have expiration.
In a statement, RCBC spokesperson Thea T. Daep said: “The conviction of Maia Deguito is consistent with the bank’s position that it is the victim in this situation and that Ms. Deguito is a rogue employee.”
“There is another case being handled by DoJ against six other RCBC officials,” Asad Alam Siam, Bangladesh’s ambassador to the Philippines, said in a statement.
“We hope that this case could be expedited and could go to trial soon for a decision.”
RCBC was fined a record P1 billion by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in August 2016 for its failure to prevent movement of the stolen money through its system.
Sought for comment, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) — which said that “to date, there have been eight individuals convicted of money laundering” so far — said in a statement that “(Ms.) Deguito’s conviction only helps the retrieval [of the rest of the stolen $81 million] by bolstering the civil forfeiture cases through which recovery efforts are coursed.” It explained that such cases are pending in regional trial courts against Kam Sin Wong, also known as Kim Wong, owner of Estern Leisure Hawaii Co. to which some of the missing funds were transferred by remittance agent Philrem Service Corp., as well as against Philrem owners Michael and Salud Bautista.
The court said that with Ms. Deguito’s 16 years in banking, she had knowledge of the requirements of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) such as the minimum amount of P500,000 per transaction for reporting covered transactions.
“To disregard such mandate of the State, accused is putting herself in danger of committing crime: violation of the AMLA law, which she is now being criminally charged for nine counts. Thus, she has nothing to blame; but herself,” the decision read. — with Reuters and Melissa L. T. Lopez