TWO GROUPS of foreigners brought in about $368 million or P18.74 billion into the country last year, prompting authorities to closely monitor potential money-laundering activities with more travelers carrying large sums of foreign currencies.

Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, citing his agency’s Jan. 29 report to Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, identified the groups as the “Rodriguez” and “Chinese” groups, which brought in $200.24 million and $167.97 million, respectively.

The first group brought the money into the country from July 17 last year to January this year and listed Excellent Forex, Inc. as the recipient of the money.

The Chinese group brought in the cash starting Dec. 17 last year to January, he said.

He added that the couriers had been paid as much as P50,000 per flight to bring in the stash. They traveled two to three times a week to carry one or two pieces of luggage, Mr. Guerrero said.

The couriers had been escorted by either police, soldiers or airport police, he said.

Customs had reported the matter to the Anti-Money Laundering Council, according to the report. “Since then, this bureau and the AMLC have remained in close communication regarding this concern.”

Mr. Guerrero said they had forwarded the concern to Congress to serve as “possible basis of policy changes on the protocol to be observed regarding hand-carried foreign currencies passing through our airports.”

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said the government would probe the suspected money-laundering and spying activities of Chinese nationals in the country.

Senator Richard J. Gordon earlier claimed Chinese nationals had brought in more than $160 million in cash into the country since December, and raised the possibility of money laundering activities.

He said Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) were probably being used as fronts for Chinese nationals who are part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“If the good senator has information on that, I think they should provide us with intelligence reports so that we can pursue their line of belief on that matter,” Mr. Panelo said.

Police had found a PLA identification card in a crime scene surrounding the murder of a Chinese national last week. The two suspects in the shooting had said the ID belonged to a Chinese national working in a local offshore gaming company.

Meanwhile, the House committee on ways and means will hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday on the alleged money laundering scheme, “This involves national security concerns,” Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda, who heads the body, told reporters.

He said the $160 million mentioned by Mr. Gordon was only the “tip of the iceberg,” adding that about $840 million had passed through the Bureau of Customs last year. — Genshen L. Espedido, BML and GMC