FAST FACTS: The Anti-Money Laundering Council

The probe into the alleged ill-gotten wealth of Vice President Jejomar Binay resurfaced with the freeze order brought by the investigation of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

AMLC findings reveal that Binay, his wife Elenita, their son Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr, and alleged dummies had “large and frequent” bank transactions from 2008 to 2014, leading the Court of Appeals to issue a freeze order on their bank accounts.

It serves as the country’s financial intelligence unit (FIU), similar to that of other countries like the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US and the Intelligence Processing and Action against Illicit Financial Networks Unit (TRACFIN) of France.

Unlike other FIUs, however, AMLC carries both investigative and prosecutorial powers.

Composition

Section 7 of RA9160 states that AMLC shall be composed of:

  • Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor as chairman
  • Insurance Commission (IC) commissioner as member
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman as member

Apart from these 3, AMLC is assisted by a Secretariat headed by an executive director to be appointed for a term of 5 years. Section 8 of AMLA states that the executive director must be a lawyer and at least 35 years old. The current executive director of AMLC is Julia Bacay-Abad.

AMLA also states that members of the Secretariat must have served for at least 5 years in either the BSP, IC, or SEC. They are all considered regular employees of BSP and are entitled to benefits and subject to rules and regulations applicable to BSP employees of similar rank.

Based on the 2013 AMLC report, most of its Secretariat personnel, especially the financial investigators, had a law enforcement background from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

Prosecution of money laundering

One of the main tasks of AMLC is to penalize those who launder money, the act of attempting to conceal the illegal nature of proceeds from unlawful activities such as:

  • kidnapping for ransom
  • drug trafficking and related offenses
  • graft and corrupt practices
  • plunder
  • robbery and extortion
  • jueteng and masiao
  • piracy
  • qualified theft
  • swindling
  • smuggling
  • violations under the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000
  • hijacking; destructive arson; and murder, including those perpetrated by terrorists against non-combatant persons and similar targets
  • fraudulent practices and other violations under the Securities Regulation Code of 2000
  • felonies or offenses of a similar nature that are punishable under the penal laws of other countries
  • terrorism financing and organizing or directing others to commit terrorism financing (RA 10168)
  • attempt/conspiracy to commit terrorism financing and organizing or directing others to commit terrorism financing (RA 10168)
  • attempt/conspiracy to commit dealing with property or funds of designated person
  • accomplice to terrorism financing or conspiracy to commit terrorism financing
  • accessory to terrorism financing

Part of the AMLC's functions is to require covered institutions to submit "covered or suspicious transaction reports". These covered institutions include:

  • Banks and all other entities supervised and regulated by the BSP
  • Insurance companies, pre-need companies, and all other institutions supervised or regulated by the IC
  • Securities dealers and other entities supervised or regulated by the SEC

When AMLC finds there is probable cause to charge any person with money laundering, it files a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman or the Department of Justice, which shall then conduct a further investigation. These agencies then file the necessary case before the Sandiganbayan or the Regional Trial Courts.

In the 2013 report of the Commission on Audit (COA), it was revealed that the AMLC was able to "locate, freeze and forfeit amounts of criminal proceeds" amounting to P3.95 billion. The agency was able to file a total of 83 cases in 2013, including 22 bank inquiry cases, 5 petitions for civil forfeiture, and 6 petitions for a freeze order.

Freeze order

The AMLC may file a freeze order on an account or property related to an unlawful activity. The freeze order shall last for a period of 20 days unless extended by the court.

The original version of AMLA actually gives the AMLC the power to directly freeze certain assets and accounts. This power, however, was removed with the passage in 2003 of an amendment via Republic Act 9194, which mandates that freeze orders have to come from the Court of Appeals.

The depositor has 72 hours upon receipt of the notice to explain why the freeze order should be lifted.

AMLA states that "no court shall issue a temporary restraining order or writ of injunction against any freeze order issued by the AMLC except the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court."

Among the freeze orders facilitated by the AMLC are:

  • July 3, 2008 – freeze order on 70 bank accounts under the name of former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante in relation with the fertilizer fund scam
  • June 7, 2011 – freeze order on billions-worth of ill-gotten wealth belonging to members of the Ampatuan family members implicated in the Maguindanao massacre
  • November 20, 2012 – freeze order on accounts of officers of Aman Futures Group Philippines
  • December 2012 – freeze order on 100 bank accounts linked to businessman Roberto Ongpin
  • August 17, 2013 – freeze order on 415 accounts of Janet Lim Napoles and her associates
  • May 11, 2015  - freeze order on 242 bank accounts owned by Vice President Jejomar Binay, his wife Elenita, Makati City Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay, several other associates and alleged dummies of the Binays.

An implication of the 2003 amendment was seen in the case of former military comptrollers Carlos Garcia and Jacinto Ligot, who were able to withdraw money just in time – before the court's freeze order was released.

In a Senate hearing in 2011, former AMLC executive director Vicente Aquino explained: "Before the AMLC can get a freeze order from the CA, it has to go to its statutory counsel from the Office of the Solicitor General before a petition to freeze is filed with the CA. By time of filing, many eyes have seen the petition.” – Rappler.com