SC expands gov't avenue to seize assets in money laundering cases

The Supreme Court (SC) gave the government more chances to preserve and forfeit assets linked to money laundering cases.

If the government wants to hold or forfeit assets at any point during trial, it can file an amended information with the court. If no charge has been filed yet, the government can already file a motion before the court.

The new rule incorporates provisions under Sections 12 (b) and (c) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

"Prior to the approval of the rule, there were no clear-cut rules regarding the forfeiture or preservation of property that is the subject, proceeds or fruits, or the means used to facilitate the commission of an unlawful activity or money laundering under RA (Republic Act) 9160, as amended,” the SC said in a statement.

Starting Monday, May 31, the government may pursue asset forfeiture for deposits or accounts of individuals who are believed to be violating the AMLA.

"In this regard, the prosecution may amend a criminal information, with
leave of court, if during trial, other property not subject of the original
information is shown to be the subject of, the proceeds or fruits of, or the
means used of committing the crime or offense charged," the SC said.

Asset preservation may be done through a verified motion after the filing of the criminal information alleging asset forfeiture, or when the information has not yet been filed but properties have already been seized through a search warrant or a warrantless arrest.

The provisional asset preservation order will be effective for 20 calendar days after the existence of probable cause is determined.

During the period, no funds may be withdrawn, deposited, or transferred in bank accounts suspected to be used for money laundering

However, real estate ordered preserved will not be physically seized before a final order of forfeiture. Owners will also not be evicted or deprived of the use of real estate.

When the property preserved is perishable or too expensive to store, it may be released through a cash bond or sold in a public auction. Proceeds will then be deposited with the clerk of court and later disposed of according to the court's final judgment.

A preservation order may be stopped if the order is found to be improperly issued or enforced. –

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.