Penalties await banks in cahoots with Napoles

Buena Bernal
Penalties await banks in cahoots with Napoles
Janet Napoles' confirmation was sought by banks each time withdrawals were made from the accounts of PDAF-receiving NGOs, baring a link between her and the dummy foundations
MANILA, Philippines – Banks and bank officers who helped facilitate money laundering in relation to the massive misuse of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel will not be spared, said the government’s financial intelligence unit.

Accountant-lawyer and prosecution witness Leigh Vhon Santos testified Thursday, October 16, before the anti-graft court that “compliance issues” are being explored against financial institutions or their officers aware of alleged PDAF scam mastermind Janet Napoles’ dubious transactions.

Santos is with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which recently revealed that movements in the accounts of detained Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr were consistent with the PDAF scam records of whistleblower and Napoles’ former financial officer Benhur Luy. (READ: P87M in Revilla deposits, Luy’s ledger match – AMLC)

The AMLC is allowed to either impose fines against financial institutions and their officers as administrative penalty or charge them criminally, depending on the extent of their knowledge and participation in the processing of dirty money.

Justice Undersecretary Jose “JJ” Justiniano, a prosecutor deputized by the Ombudsman, said a bank client like Napoles was a “valued customer” and likely had insiders in cahoots with her, given the multiple accounts she controlled to perpetrate the PDAF scam.

Notations in withdrawal slips

Santos raised the point on potential liabilities, after revealing that Napoles’ confirmation was sought by the banks each time withdrawals were made from the accounts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that received PDAF.

Santos said the fact that Napoles’ confirmation had to be sought out bares her link with the dummy NGOs, with the banks aware that Napoles was the de facto owner of the accounts.

Withdrawal slips from different banks bared remarks underneath saying “confirmed with Janet Napoles.”

In its report, the AMLC said the notations indicating Napoles’ confirmation appeared in the following:

  • 42 withdrawal slips in an account with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) EDSA Greenhills branch from January 18, 2006 to March 17, 2009
  • at least 16 withdrawal slips in another account also with the LBP Greenhills branch from April 26, 2006 to July 21, 2008
  • at least 12 withdrawal slips in an account with an unspecified LBP branch from March 17, 2006 to May 22, 2008

Santos said this “pattern” corroborates the claim in Luy’s testimony that Napoles had to be informed of impending multi-million-peso withdrawals.

Santos testified during the Sandiganbayan First Division’s hearing of the bail pleas of Revilla, his aide Richard Cambe, and Napoles who are all charged with plunder and graft over the PDAF scam. (READ: Millions in cash deposits? Showbiz earnings, says Revilla)

Plunder and graft are predicate crimes of money laundering. (READ: BIR ‘constrained’ in using bank info to go after Revilla)

Revilla lawyer discredits AMLC report

Revilla’s lawyer Joel Bodegon dismissed the AMLC report implicating his client of ill-gotten wealth, saying it was “based on malice.”

He highlighted the “margin of error” in AMLC’s process of analyzing money inflow and outflow, saying the 30-day period of monitoring by the AMLC is baseless.

The AMLC found that the time of deposits in Revilla’s and his family members’ accounts came within 30 days after supposed kickbacks over the pork barrel scam were delivered from Napoles to Revilla, as recorded by Luy.

Bodegon alleged that the AMLC enforced a double standard, with the accounts of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s former aide monitored only under a 5-day-gap rule. (READ: Manila court freezes for now Gigi Reyes’ bank accounts)

Enrile is likewise charged over the massive PDAF scam, the biggest scandal to hit the country in recent years.

He added that had the 5-day rule been applied to Revilla’s accounts, the kickbacks that can be traced to his client would only amount to P10.63 million ($236,180*).

The crime of plunder – a capital offense opposition senators Revilla, Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada are accused of – involves the amassing of assets from the public coffers in an amount equal to or greater than P50 million ($1.11 million*). 

Bodegon added that the P50-million threshold cannot be reached – implying that the offense of his client does not constitute plunder – even if a 10-day-gap is applied in the monitoring of Revilla’s accounts.

Despite this, Santos remained steadfast in his team’s findings.

Santos said the 30-day-gap was even “conservative,” as money launderers avoid immediately placing their dirty money in financial institutions to dodge suspicions of their illegal activity.

Santos added Revilla’s kickbacks may even be greater than is recorded, as AMLC can only look into bank records and not cash kept on hand.

Revilla listened to Santos’ testimony with a furrowed brow; his hand movements gesturing disbelief and frustration.

Constantly murmuring with his staff members in court, the senator had defended his earnings to be from his talent and endorsement fees as an action star–

*US$1 = P45.01

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