Bangladesh envoy dismayed, witnesses stonewalled at 4th Senate probe
MANILA, Philippines – The person behind the $81-million Bangladesh Bank stolen fund coursed through the Philippines remains a mystery, as key witnesses and resource persons continue to "stonewall and hide behind the laws."
Describing herself as an "unwitting scapegoat," sacked Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) bank manager Maia Santos-Deguito said during the fourth hearing on the heist on Tuesday, April 5, that she never got a cent from the stolen money.
"In the name of my children, I did not get anything... even a single cent," Deguito told the Senate.
She also denied that she was the brains behind the scheme, which she said could only be done by influential people, including top officials of RCBC.
"I am but a pawn in a high-stakes chess game played by giants," she said.
Everyone claims no knowledge on scam
Officials of RCBC told the Senate they are now willing to discuss the detailed transactions of the 4 accounts at the Jupiter Street, Makati City branch, after these were found to be fake.
"We will comply," RCBC lead and regulatory affairs head Maria Celia Estavillo said during the hearing, after the Land Transportation Office said the identification cards presented for the opening of accounts were fake. (READ: 6 things we know about RCBC money-laundering scam)
According to Estavillo, two of the fake identification cards used photos of those who are acquainted to Deguito. These photos are of RCBC reserve officer Adrian Yujuico for the Jessie Lagrosas account; and Robert Bonagua for the Michael Cruz account.
"We believe the face is of a gentleman by the name of Robert Bonagua. Based on Facebook, he works in the former employer of Ms Deguito," Estavillo said during the hearing.
Deguito said Bonagua's Facebook account was hacked.
Deguito also had said that Wong was the one who instructed her to open the fictitious accounts at RCBC Jupiter branch – before the money was transferred to junket operators and casinos.
Wong, however, denied this, telling the Senate "nadinig ko sa testimony niya (Deguito), may limang tao raw ako na ipinakilala. Tanong niyo po sa kanya kung totoo po 'yun. (I heard from her testimony that I allegedly referred 5 individuals to her. Ask her if that is true)." Deguito then invoked her right against self-incrimination.
Wong then said he will borrow money from friends and tap into the shares of his company to raise another P450 million that will be turned over to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in 15-30 days.
Wong had earlier returned $4.63 million and P38.28 million to the AMLC at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas headquarters in Manila for safekeeping.
For Senator Sergio Osmeña III, the witnesses and key resource persons were "stonewalling and hiding behind the walls."
"The law allows leniency, you always do a deal. Kim Wong is a key player here. even Deguito. PhilRem played a very important role. Deguito is trying to say, 'I'm not the most guilty, there are others who are more guilty than me.' Who is that somebody? She has to say it. It was full of hints, but no direct testimony," he said. (READ: Senators note inconsistency in PhilRem's $81-M bank heist story)
On RCBC, he said the bank "can hide behind the law." (READ: Network: Who's who in the RCBC money-laundering scam)
"So the meat of anti-money laundering law is that the frontline is the banks, and they have to know their customer. Say, I have a farmer who has P1,000 in his account then suddenly he receives $100,000. That case, I'm supposed to question it. That's what they supposed to do," he said.
"They have to judge if it is a valid transaction or not. If he cannot show anything to explain the $100,000, then I'll hold this first," Osmeña added.
Two Macau high rollers
During the Senate, Wong revealed two other casino junket operators who allegedly received a portion of the laundered money. (READ: Casino junket operator gives new leads in bank heist)
These operators are Chau Cheok Wa, authorized representative of the Suncity Group Junket that deals with Solaire, and Chang Lai Fong, authorized representative of Goldmoon Junket.
This was confirmed by Solaire's lawyer Silverio Benny Tan, who said a total of P1.37 billion was transferred to Chau and Chang. Tan said about P903 million went to the account of Chau, and P100 million to Chang.
The junket operators were represented at the hearing by lawyers Francis Aguilar and Eduard Escaño. Both lawyers said they "have yet to advise our clients."
Bangladesh envoy dismayed
At the end of the fourth Senate probe, Bangladesh Ambassador to the Philippines John Gomes expressed disappointment to Senator Teofisto "TG" Guingona III and AMLC Executive Director Julia Bacay-Abad on the outcome of the hearing.
He was particularly disappointed over the status of the funds returned by Wong. (READ: SWIFT system and the $81-M money laundering issue)
He asked AMLC if the money can be immediately turned over to the Bangladesh Bank, as the ambassador has to report updates to the Bangladesh government on Wednesday, April 6.
But Bacay-Abad replied "we have to wait," as the civil forfeiture case should be filed first.
"So what do we do now? You called me that I must come now. You said: You have to receive it (acknowledgement receipt) and you have to sign it. You told us that we have to count each dollar for two days," Gomes told Bacay-Abad.
"We've been counting for so long and why were we counting this money? For nothing? It’s all in the newspaper also!" the ambassador said while in a heated conversation with Bacay-Abad and Guingona.
According to Bacay-Abad, the ambassador thought the money would be turned over on Wednesday, so he can send it onward to the Bangladesh government.
But after talks with Wong's lawyer, it turned out that the turnover was only for safekeeping, the AMLC official told reporters after the hearing.
"It appeared now that they (Wong's camp) only wants to turn over to AMLC," Bacay-Abad said. "But our understanding before is that they are willing to give it back to Bangladesh."
"We are just making a clarification that he has no objection to the physical turnover of the money to the Bangladesh Bank. But effectively, the Bangladesh government already received it because he signed acknowledgement receipt," Bacay-Abad told reporters.
Without a written consent from Wong, the recourse would have to be a civil forfeiture litigation in court, which is set to be filed by AMLC next week. – Rappler.com