Philippine economy

Senate blue ribbon chair to PhilRem chief: ‘You’re hiding something’

Chrisee Dela Paz
Senate blue ribbon chair to PhilRem chief: ‘You’re hiding something’
At the resumption of the Senate hearing on the Bangladesh bank heist, Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares says PhilRem clearly violated tax regulations

MANILA, Philippines – The chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee accused the chief of money transfer firm PhilRem Service Corporation of “hiding something,” citing her “consistently inconsistent” testimonies on the transactions related to the $81-million stolen funds from Bangladesh Bank.

At the 5th Senate hearing on the bank heist, PhilRem president Salud Bautista faced the committee without her husband, Michael Bautista, another probe witness, saying he has been hospitalized because “he is sick.”

“I’m sorry, I’m late. I had to attend to my husband who is in the hospital. He has acute stomach pain,” the chief of the money transfer firm said. Her husband is also the treasurer of PhilRem and was present during the transactions with casino junket operator Weikang Xu.

In an earlier Senate hearing, Bautista said her firm delivered P600 million and another $18 million in cash to Xu. (READ: Network: Who’s who in the RCBC money-laundering scam)

The Senate blue ribbon committee has issued a subpeona for PhilRem messenger Mark Palmares, but the money transfer firm president said Palmares is “not feeling well.” Bautista gave the same excuse during the last hearing.

“You really give us a feeling of evasion. For two hearings, that are weeks apart, your messenger is still not feeling well,” Senator Teofisto Guingona III told Bautista. “You made a commitment to produce him in this hearing. Now, he’s not feeling well.”

During the fourth Senate probe, senators caught the PhilRem owners contradicting their earlier testimonies on their transactions linked to the Bangladesh Bank fund heist.

“You better be careful. You are hiding something. Your credibility is very, very low,” Guingona, who chairs the Senate blue ribbon committee, told Bautista.

Senators had pointed out that Bautista failed to mention that casino junket agent Wong was present in all deliveries, when he was being mentioned several times during the past hearings.

“I’m sorry if that’s how it appears, but I’m not hiding information,” Bautista said.

According to Wong, about $17 million of the stolen funds is still with PhilRem. But Bautista denied this, saying: “We’ve been in the business for years. We’ve delivered everything to Xu. We use receipts.”

Bautista said her firm “transferred P600 million and $18 million in 6 tranches to Weikang Xu.”

She added that it was during the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th time that the money was picked up by Xu in Bautista’s residence.

The transactions did not take place at PhilRem’s registered address at Unit 401 Cityland III Esteban corner Herrera Street in Legaspi Village, Makati.

BIR: There’s a clear violation

For Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, the affidavit of PhilRem messenger Palmares “shows that PhilRem violated tax regulations.”

“All receipts should be registered with BIR,” Henares added.

The BIR chief said the PhilRem delivery receipt showed to the Senate “is not a legitimate receipt. It does not follow BIR’s requirements. There is no address, TIN (tax identification number).”

Henares also pointed out during the hearing that “something is wrong with PhilRem’s business registration.”

“PhilRem’s business registration says they are a land transportation contractor, not a money changer and remittance company,” she said.

Founded in 1998, the company was primarily established to engage in the business of remittance of money currency from abroad to be delivered to different parts of the Philippines.

“They amended their articles of incorporation in 2005, but did not update their registration with us. The taxes they paid are wrong,” Henares said.

A look at the latest financial statement filed before the SEC showed that PhilRem had a net income of P373,951.62 in 2014.

Its gross profit in 2014 amounted to P11.81 million, while its operating expenses totaled P8.89 million.

This leaves the money remittance firm a net profit of less than P400,000 in 2014. This is much larger than the P10.47 million it profited from transactions linked to the heist. 

When Bautista failed to directly answer questions about the revenue of remittance firms, Senator Sergio Osmeña III told her, “You say you’ve been in the business for 18 years, but you don’t know how the business runs.” – Rappler.com 

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