MANILA, Philippines – The president of a money transfer firm claimed Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito instructed her to convert into pesos part of the $81 million stolen funds from Bangladesh Bank, and deliver it in tranches to a registered casino junket operator.
Salud Bautista, president of Philrem Service Corporation, told the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday, March 15, that Deguito instructed her to deliver P600 million and another $18 million in cash to a certain Weikang Xu.
Bautista gave the information as Senator Sergio Osmeña III, chairman of the Senate committee on banks, raised questions on transactions between Philrem and the junket operator. (READ: How Bangladesh Bank dirty money easily got into PH)
“You delivered P600 million in cash to a Mr Weikang Xu of Solaire. Do you know a Mr Weikang Xu?” Osmeña asked Bautista.
“Your honor, he’s the beneficiary of the remittance,” she replied, then added that Deguito was the one who gave her the instructions to deliver the money to Xu.
Aside from the P600-million cash delivery, Osmeña said that Anti-Money Laundering Council documents showed a cash delivery of another $18 million from Philrem to Xu, which Bautista confirmed.
Asked to confirm Bautista’s statement, Deguito invoked her right against self-incrimination and reiterated that she “will answer everything in an executive session.” This was her stock response to all questions directed to her at the hearing. (READ: RCBC manager invokes right vs self-incrimination at Senate probe)
Although Deguito did not verify the information, a representative of Solaire Resort and Casino confirmed this and said Xu is a registered casino junket operator.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, blue ribbon committee chair, then asked Bautista to relay her conversation with Deguito when the latter told her to remit to these accounts.
“It is like a regular remittance to us because we are regular remittance company. We are asked by the sender to bring the funds to beneficiary. It is a regular course of business to us,” Bautista replied.
The Philrem president said the company has been doing business with the RCBC branch for about “3-5 years now.”
Asked by Senator Juan Edgardo Angara how much Philrem makes in a month, Bautista said her company processes “roughly 100,000 transactions every month. When asked to translate that in earnings, she said, “per transaction is $500.”
Bautista: My accounts were closed
As the Senate hearing dragged on, Bautista told the Senate that RCBC had closed her personal and corporate accounts despite her exclusion from the AMLC freeze order request before the Court of Appeals.
“The only bank that closed my accounts is RCBC,” Bautista said, adding that her RCBC bank account was “unilaterally closed” on March 1. (READ: Ex-S&R owner to sue RCBC manager over heist)
“They closed my personal account last March 1 and received a notification from them that I would be issued a manager’s check….They closed my personal account and my other company’s account. They unilaterally closed all our accounts without reason,” Bautista told the Senate panel.
She said she called the bank on March 2, asking why the check has not been released. Bautista said checks she have issued since then have bounced.
In response, RCBC compliance officer Winwin Salamatin said that the freeze order did not cover Bautista’s personal accounts.
During Tuesday’s hearing, AMLC Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad said “a total of 44 bank accounts have been frozen” in relation to the investigation into the money-laundering scheme.
Another Senate hearing on the Bangladesh Bank fund heist probe is set on Thursday, March 17.
Guingona said in an interview on radio dzRh on Wednesday, March 16, that he and other members of the Senate committee will discuss whether to grant the request of Deguito to have an executive session on Thursday.
The bank manager had promised to reveal all she knew about the incident but only in an executive session. Deguito had declined to respond to questions at the Senate hearing as she is among those that the AMLC has charged with money laundering in connection with the bank heist.
Guingona had earlier junked the request since the true holder of the account – the Bangladesh government – did not invoke the Philippines’ bank secrecy law. Bangladesh’s central bank governor resigned following the incident. – Rappler.com