THE DEPARTMENT of Justice (DoJ) charged five current and former officials of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) with money laundering in connection with the February 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist.

Charged on May 20 at the Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 141 were former RCBC treasurer Raul Victor B. Tan and former senior Customer Relationship officer Angela Ruth S. Torres, as well as National Sales Director Ismael S. Reyes, Regional Sales Director Brigitte R. Capiña and Customer Service Head Romualdo S. Agarrado.

The case stemmed from the theft of $81 million from the account of Bangladesh Bank at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and their transfer to four accounts registered under fictitious names at RCBC’s Jupiter Street branch in Makati City. The said funds were withdrawn by suspects who used them to play in casinos. Only about $15 million of the stolen funds have so far been returned to Bangladesh.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in August 2016 imposed a P1-billion fine on RCBC for lapses that enabled the cybercriminals to run off with the funds. The amount is the biggest fine ever imposed by the BSP as administrative sanction on banks and other supervised financial entities for failure to comply with banking laws and regulations.

In a press statement, DoJ Undersecretary Markk L. Perete, the department’s spokesman, said prosecutors denied in a May 10 resolution the motion for reconsideration of the five RCBC officials over their indictment in February last year, insisting that they were “remiss in their duties and thereby facilitated the offense of money laundering.” The bank executives were charged for violation of Section 4(f) of Republic Act No. 9160, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act, which states that money laundering is committed by anyone “who performs or fails to perform any act as a result of which he facilitates the offense of money laundering.”

In a statement, RCBC legal counsel Thea A. Daep said: “We are confident that they will be vindicated since our investigation, conducted by independent third parties, concluded they had no knowledge about the alleged money laundering activity at all.”

“We expect the complaint to be dismissed consequently.”

DoJ’s Mr. Parete said the five were found “instrumental” in lifting the temporary hold order on the four beneficiary accounts that got the funds “wrongfully taken” from Bangladesh Bank and allowing their transfer.

According to information filed with the court, the DoJ said Mr. Tan ordered the lifting of the hold status of the four accounts without first “escalating the matter” to RCBC’s Anti-Money Laundering Committee and without directing the conduct of enhanced due diligence, while Mr. Reyes dispensed with investigation after being informed of the suspicious remittances. Mr. Agarrado, for his part, “approved large cash withdrawals and transfers from fictitious dollar accounts to the bank accounts of Willian Go/Centurytex Trading, Philrem Services Corp. and Abba Currency Exchange,” while Ms. Capiña failed to conduct enhanced due diligence. Ms. Torres, according to the DoJ, allegedly processed the withdrawal from bank accounts of Centurytex Trading of $20 million and the transfer of these funds to the bank account of Philrem Services Corp., and of an additional $13 million and its transfer to the bank account of Abba Currency Exchange.

The DoJ also upheld in the resolution dated May 10 the “willful blindness doctrine” which, according to the Supreme Court, is a “deliberate avoidance or knowledge of a crime, especially by failing to make a reasonable inquiry about suspected wrongdoing, despite being aware that it is highly probable.”

“There is no better way to describe the acts of respondents Tan, Capiña, Reyes, Agarrado and Torres than this… Their complacent attitude in handling the suspicious remittances is unacceptable, and rocked the integrity of our banking system,” the DoJ said.

The prosecution also said that from the moment they were aware of the transaction, an investigation on the matter was the “most prudent thing to do” or at least they should have sustained the hold order until they confirmed with the Bangladesh Bank.

In January, a Makati court convicted former RCBC Jupiter Street branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito of eight counts of money-laundering. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas