MANILA, Philippines – The probe on the alleged involvement of Philippine banks and casinos in a $100-million bank heist in downtown Manhattan heated up on Wednesday, March 9, after Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) said that a bulk of the laundered money was deposited in its Jupiter branch in Makati City.
“RCBC is investigating the deposit of $81 million in its Jupiter branch and the subsequent transactions thereon,” RCBC’s corporate vice chairman Cesar Virata said in a statement.
Virata gave assurances that the bank is cognizant of its bank secrecy obligations and will at all times maintain confidentiality of its accounts.
“RCBC and its principal shareholders – the Yuchengco family, Cathay Life, the largest life insurance company in Taiwan, and IFC, the investment arm of the World Bank – are fully committed to comply with all banking laws and regulations, in particular those on money laundering,” Virata said.
“The bank has timely submitted the required reports to the AMLC and will cooperate with government regulators,” he added.
His remarks came after a Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) report published Wednesday morning saying that the “$81 million – suspected to have come from the same source – managed to enter the local banking system and was released to local clients of RCBC.”
The Bangladesh central bank owns the pilfered account.
Quoting an unnamed representative of an RCBC bank manager, the PDI report said top officials of RCBC knew about the transaction.
RCBC chief: My track record is unblemished
RCBC president and CEO Lorenzo Tan denied the allegation, saying that his track record of 18 years in the local banking industry is “unblemished.”
“I condemn as malicious and actionable insinuations that the top management of the bank knew of and tolerated alleged money laundering activities in one branch,” Tan said in a text message.
“I will fully cooperate with all ongoing inquiries and believe that I and consequently the bank’s management will be fully vindicated,” he added.
Tan noted that during his long career in the Philippine banking industry, he was involved in “rebuilding banks, instituting reforms in Philippine and Asian banking, creating products for the unbanked and providing capital to small entrepreneurs.”
“My track record is unblemished and even counts positions of trust such as head of the Bankers Association of the Philippines and the Asian Bankers Association,” he added.
The author of the PDI report cited a document showing that funds laundered from the Bangladesh bank were deposited in 5 bank accounts and were transferred to foreign exchange broker Philrem to be converted into Philippine pesos.
“It was then transferred back to RCBC and consolidated into the bank account of a Chinese-Filipino businessman, who then moved it to the casinos,” the PDI report added.
PAGCOR: Solaire, Midas, City of Dreams under probe
Francis Hernando, vice president for Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation’s gaming and licensing development department, told Rappler in a phone interview that PAGCOR has asked for comments from the concerned casinos.
“Based on our process, we asked the involved casinos – Solaire, Midas, and City of Dreams – to give comments. They have already submitted their comments, but we are still evaluating their positions. We will now move to the next phase, which is to examine their records specific to cash transactions,” Hernando said.
The PDI report revealed that there was even an attempt to launder an additional $870 million funds stolen from the Bangladesh central bank, but was returned offshore after authorities were alerted.
The PAGCOR official, however, is not privy to the total amount involved in the money-laundering incident.
“We are not privy to that. On the PAGCOR side, this Inquirer article triggered an internal inquiry on the casinos only. It is speculative at this point in time. We just want to get to the hard facts on the casinos,” Hernando said.
BSP, AMLC mum on the issue
Rappler also tried to get the side of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) via e-mail, text message, and phone calls.
Deputy Governor of the BSP’s Monetary Stability Sector Diwa Guinigundo said he could not confirm the $870 million returned to Bangladesh Bank. “I have no knowledge. Banking is not my area,” he said in a text message.
Rappler was also able to reach AMLC Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad via phone, but she said: “I cannot confirm any of these. There is an ongoing investigation.”
Sought for comment, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said in a mobile phone reply that “these matters fall under the authority and jurisdiction of the AMLC, an independent body.”
Other than AMLC, PAGCOR and the National Bureau of Investigation have started their own investigation into the biggest money-laundering case recorded in Philippine history. – Rappler.com