MANILA, Philippines – The Senate blue ribbon commitee plans to “close the chapter” on the involvement of Filipino-Chinese businessman William Go at the third hearing on the $81-million Bangladesh Bank fund heist on March 29.
Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III bared the agenda of the March 29 hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee, which he chairs, on the heist which has turned out to be the biggest recorded money laundering incident in Philippine history.
“We would like to close the chapter of William So Go during the next hearing,” Guingona said in an interview at the Manila Hotel on March 22. (READ: How to safeguard the Philippines from dirty money)
He added that the Senate panel will also focus on the judgment lapse of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in facilitating the release of the stolen funds, and the role of money transfer firm Philippine Remittance Service Corporation (PhilRem) in the grand money laundering scheme.
Closing chapter on Go
Go, the former owner of S&R Membership Shopping (formerly PriceSmart Membership Shopping), is among those under investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the Senate blue ribbon committee, after the stolen funds from Bangladesh Bank went through supposed “fake” accounts under his name and his business, Centurytex Trading.
Go had told the local media that the manager of the concerned RCBC branch, Maia Santos-Deguito, allegedly offered him P10 million to participate in the scheme and keep quiet about it.
This was in contrast to Deguito’s testimony before the Senate. She claimed that Go asked for 10% of the $81 million in exchange for his silence.
On March 19, Go filed a criminal complaint before the Office of the City Prosecutor of Makati against Deguito and resigned RCBC senior customer relations officer Angela Ruth Torres for falsification of documents as part of the Bangladesh Bank heist. (READ: 4 new names emerge at Senate probe into Bangladesh Bank heist)
Two more criminal complaints for falsification of documents will be filed against Deguito and Torres “very soon,” Go’s legal counsel, Ramon Esguerra, told Rappler via phone interview.
RCBC had earlier sacked Deguito and Torres, and said it would mete out sanctions to other bank officials and personnel after their internal investigation.
Probing RCBC’s course of action
As the Senate aims to conclude Go’s alleged involvement, the committee will start questioning why RCBC went on with the transactions despite receiving a “stop payment” order request from the Bangladesh Bank.
The Bangladesh Bank sent the request order via Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) to RCBC’s main office on February 8. (READ: TIMELINE: Tracing the $81-million stolen fund from Bangladesh Bank)
But since February 8 is a non-working holiday in the Philippines, RCBC received a SWIFT code from Bangladesh Bank only on February 9, requesting for refund of fund or putting it on hold if it had been transferred to stop payment and freeze the accounts for proper investigation.
Despite the “stop payment” order, the RCBC Jupiter branch still allowed withdrawals from the accounts on February 9.
SWIFT is used as messaging system by banks for international transactions.
“Another [focus] would be that question about RCBC’s handling of funds, even after they knew it was from an illegitimate source,” Guingona said.
“Why would you convert it and allow withdrawals even if alam mo na na nakaw siya (if you knew it was stolen)? That’s pure common sense. Sasabihin mong sandali nga, nakaw iyan pero cinonvert mo pa din sa peso (You would say, hold on, it was stolen but you would still convert it in peso),” the senator added.
Questioning PhilRem’s connections
Guingona said the Senate blue ribbon committee will also start questioning how all the $81-million stolen funds slipped through PhilRem.
“The last focus would be the PhilRem. After the [RCBC] accounts, everything went to PhilRem. There’s a lot of explaining to do. They are aware of their shortcomings, as they even offered to return the P10-million profit but was not just accepted by the Bangladesh Bank,” Guingona said.
During the second hearing on March 15, PhilRem said it will issue Bangladesh Bank a check of P10.47 million – the amount it profited from transactions linked to the heist. But the bank rejected it.
During that hearing, AMLC Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad said PhilRem might have committed violations of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).
“PhilRem still has the ultimate responsibility to know its customer. There are certain requisites for third-party reliance to hold. There may be basis to cite PhilRem with violations of AMLA,” Bacay-Abad at the hearing.
Guingona said his committee would also “look into” the possible link between RCBC and PhilRem.
In 2012, former RCBC Securities president Jerome Tan drowned in Subic, Zambales. Citing a police investigation, a news report said Tan was onboard My Bee Uagoon Yacht along with Michael Bautista, the treasurer of PhilRem, when the incident happened.
The incident happened about two months after a number of RCBC Securities’ clients in December 2011 complained about missing stocks and unaccounted funds, which amounted to about P126 million. Terminated RCBC trader Mary Grace Valbuena was accused of defrauding her clients.
In March 2012, the stock exchange imposed a P5-million fine against RCBC Securities, after one its agents was found to have defrauded clients in violation of the Securities Regulation Code.
RCBC Securities is a subsidiary of RCBC Capital Corporation, which in turn is wholly owned by the Yuchengco-led RCBC.
“It is very clear that PhilRem is close with the bank and bank manager Deguito. We’ll start questioning PhilRem about that [in the next hearing],” Guingona said.
The Senate blue ribbon committee will conduct its third hearing on the multi-million-dollar money-laundering case on March 29, after Kim Wong – who was linked to past scandals and now dragged into the Bangladesh Bank fund heist – returns from medical treatment in Singapore. – Rappler.com
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