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MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the conviction of former Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) Maia Santos-Deguito of eight counts of money laundering or violation of section 4 of Republic Act No. 9160, as amended.
“WHEREFORE, the appeal is hereby DISMISSED. The Joint Decision dated 10 January 2019 and the Resolution dated 20 September 2019 of the Regional Trial Court, Branch 149 of Makati City in Criminal Case Nos. R-MKT-17-02993-CR, R-MKT-17- 02994-CR, R-MKT-17-02995-CR, R-MKT-17-02996-CR, R-MKT-17- 02997-CR, R-MKT-17-02999-CR, R-MKT-17-03000-CR and RMKT-17-04107-CR, finding accused-appellant MAIA SANTOSDEGUITO GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt for eight (8) counts of Violation of Section 4 (f) of R.A. No. 9160, as amended, are AFFIRMED,” the decision read.
The resolution promulgated on February 6, but publicized only on Wednesday, April 19, was penned by Associate Justice Raymond Reynold Lauigan. Associate Justices Remedios Salazar-Fernando and Pablito Perez, meanwhile, concurred.
In its ruling, the appellate court explained money laundering was committed in the case through facilitation under section 4 (f) in relation to section 4 (a) of the anti-money laundering act.
The court said all the three elements needed – including knowledge by the offender that any monetary instrument relates to the proceeds of any unlawful activity – was present in the case. Deguito attempted to “downplay” her role in the alleged money laundering activity by saying she had no knowledge of any illegal activities when she opened the Jupiter accounts on May 15, 2016.
“Such argument fails to convince considering that Deguito was the Business Manager of RCBC Jupiter, and not just a mere employee. It was actually the opening of the Jupiter Accounts that set the wheels in motion,” the CA said.
Deguito also claimed that the lower court erred in ruling that she had “full and prior” knowledge of the illegal source of the funds. But the appellate court said the former bank officer was mistaken because the element of knowledge in the anti-money laundering law may be established through direct or circumstantial evidence.
The CA also noted that aside from opening the bank accounts, Deguito also performed “significant acts,” which included movement of funds from the hacking of the Bangladesh bank.
Aside from this, the appellate court also pointed out that Deguito “turned a blind eye” to the red flag indicators in the case. In addition, the CA said the former bank officer pinned the blame on RCBC’s
operations department, settlements department, and other employees of RCBC Jupiter.
But the CA said that as manager, Deguito served as the “overall head” and “control officer” of the business center. This means she “cannot feign ignorance of the blatant irregularities in the inward remittances credited to the Jupiter Accounts, and pretend as if her hands were tied that she cannot do anything to rectify them.”
What happened before
On January 10, 2019, Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 149 found Santos-Deguito guilty of eight counts of money laundering over the 2016 Bangladesh bank heist. She was sentenced to four to seven years in prison for each of the eight counts and ordered to pay $109 million as penalty.
Deguito-Santos was implicated in the $81-million heist after the stolen funds were found to have ended up in the Philippines. The Bangladesh Bank, the central bank of Bangladesh itself, was hacked and the money collected was converted to Philippine pesos and distributed to junket operators and casinos. (READ: How Bangladesh Bank dirty money easily got into PH)
After that, the money was deposited in RCBC’s foreign currency accounts, and then passed on to Philrem Service Corporation for distribution. The money was later deposited to the account of William So Go of DBA Centurytex Trading. Go’s account was opened on the same day the deposits were made.
Two years before the conviction, in 2017, the justice department cleared Philrem executives in the indictment, so Deguito was left to face the charges. – Rappler.com