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DOJ clears Philrem officials in Bangladesh Bank heist

MANILA, Philippines – A panel from the Department of Justice (DOJ) overturned an earlier resolution and dismissed a money laundering complaint against officials of money transfer firm Philrem Service Corporation.

Philrem was implicated in the $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist that saw stolen funds end up in the Philippines.

Last April, the DOJ's Anti-Money Laundering Task Force had indicted Philrem executives, husband and wife Michael and Salud Bautista, for money laundering over their role in converting to peso and distributing to junket operators and casinos part of the funds which were stolen from the Bangladesh central bank through hacking. (READ: How Bangladesh Bank dirty money easily got into PH)

But in another reversal, the same DOJ panel approved the motion for reconsideration by the Bautista couple and proceeded to dismiss the complaint against them in a 6-page resolution released to media on Thursday, September 7.

According to the panel, the couple alerted authorities about the suspicious transaction, and are therefore not involved in money laundering.

"The Anti-Money Laundering Task Force took cognizance of the respondents' averment that contrary to the charge filed against them, they have properly submitted a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) on 17 February 2016. The respondents presented the subject STR and since the resolution centered on said document, the charge against them for money laundering is herein dismissed," read part of the resolution signed by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos.

The DOJ panel also cleared AML Compliance Officer Anthony Pelejo. (READ: Philrem to return over P10M profit to Bangladesh Bank)

Deguito's charges affirmed

While the Bautistas are off the hook, the DOJ panel affirmed its indictment of former Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager Maia Deguito for money laundering. Deguito's motion for reconsideration was junked.

The DOJ panel said she is liable "based on the fact that she facilitated the withdrawal of the said funds from RCBC and deposited them to the accounts of the unknown and fictitious account holders."

The money was deposited to foreign currency accounts of RCBC, which passed it on to Philrem for conversion and distribution.

The stolen funds were deposited to the account of William So Go of DBA Centurytex Trading, opened on the same day of the deposits. (READ: Bank heist probe: Questions, contradictions hound Philrem)

Go name-dropped Deguito and said the branch manager had told him she opened fictitious DBA Centurytex Trading accounts. It was also Deguito who proceeded with the transfer of money despite a stop payment order from RCBC itself.

Deguito supposedly told a colleague, "I would rather do this than have me killed and my family."

The charges against the former bank branch manager were filed before the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC).

The DOJ also affirmed its dismissal of the complaint against casino junket operators Kim Wong and Weikang Xu, saying that the allegations of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) "were not supported by direct evidence but mainly by conjectures and implications."

Deguito said it was Wong who made the referral to open fictitious accounts at RCBC. Xu, on the other hand, received P600 million and $18 million in 6 tranches from Philrem. (READ: Hard lessons learned as Senate ends bank heist probe)

The money laundering case highlighted the Philippines' outdated anti-money laundering laws, which make it easy to hide dirty money through financial systems here, and which make it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute such cases. – Rappler.com