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Kim Wong tags 2 Chinese in $81-M heist

Casino junket operator Kim Wong presents an image taken from a surveillance video as proof that Solaire Resorts and Casino received some of the money from the $81-million Bank of Bangladesh heist. He and businessman William Go (left) appeared before the Senate yesterday. Go has said his signatures were forged to open bogus bank accounts used in cross-border electronic fraud and money laundering. GEREMY PINTOLO

MANILA, Philippines – Initially tagged as a principal player in the laundering of $81 million stolen from Bangladesh, Chinese-Filipino casino junket operator Kim Wong yesterday named instead two Chinese nationals who brought the money to the Philippines and had it deposited in the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC).

Appearing for the first time in the hearings of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on the $81-million money laundering case, Wong, whose real name is Kam Sin Wong, identified the two individuals as Sua Ha Gao or Gao Shuhua and Ding Zhize or Kam Xin Shi, both Chinese nationals.

Wong denied having anything to do with the transfer of the $81 million to the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City.

“There are many allegations against me. In this business of ours in casinos we have rules. We need to tell the truth no matter what happens. I have nothing to do with the fake bank documents used to bring the money into the country. I don’t know the origin of the $81 million,” Wong said in Filipino.

“Two foreigners brought in the $81 million. One of them has been going in and out of the country for a long time already and is known as a junket agent and a high roller,” he added.

Wong said that Gao was from Beijing and was his junket agent for almost eight years.

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He said Gao gambled a lot and even lost P450 million in Solaire at one time.

In his testimony, Wong said he introduced RCBC Jupiter branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito to Gao sometime in 2015 so the latter could open an account at her branch.

Gao wanted to open a corporate dollar account but was told five individuals were needed to open a corporate account, Wong said.

Gao, Wong said, found the process very tedious and just asked Deguito to take care of everything.

Wong denied Deguito’s claim that he introduced the five individuals who opened dollar accounts at her branch. The five turned out to be non-existent.

The five accounts under the names of Michael Cruz, Jessie Lagrosas, Alfred Vergara, Enrico Vazquez and Ralph Picache were created to take in the $81 million. Of the five accounts, only Picache’s did not receive any money.

Last Feb. 4, Wong said he was told by Gao that Ding was bringing in a big investment, the exact amount of which was not known.

The next day, Wong said he called up Deguito to check if funds had been transferred to the accounts linked to Gao and was informed that several transfers had been made, totaling $81 million.

According to Wong, he instructed Deguito to transfer all the funds to the casinos.

He said it was Deguito and Philippine Remittance Service Group (Philrem) which facilitated the release of the money from RCBC.

Of the $81 million withdrawn from RCBC, some $60 million went to Solaire and Midas casinos, and around $17 million to Philrem, he added.

Wong said that when the freeze orders sought by the Anti-Money Laundering Council came out, only P40 million was left with Midas and P100 million with Solaire.

On the evening of Feb. 5, Wong said Michael Bautista of Philrem brought P80 million in cash to Solaire. A few minutes later, Deguito brought another P20 million.

Wong said that he personally met with Deguito to receive the money and even presented a screen capture from the CCTV footage of Solaire showing her vehicle on the day in question.

He said he went to the house of Bautista on Feb. 9 to collect P100 million and $3 million in cash.

The next day, he returned to Bautista’s house to get another P100 million and $2 million in cash. A third visit was made on Feb. 14 to get another P100 million.

All in all, Wong said P400 million and $5 million had been deposited in the junket.

Of the $5 million, Wong said only P4.63 million was left and that he is willing to turn the amount over to the government.

Lawyer Silverio Benny Tan of Solaire said that there is a balance of P107.35 million in chips from the group of Ding. He said another P1.347 million had been confiscated from the rooms of the junket players.

Based on documents submitted by the embassy of Bangladesh to the Senate, 30 payment instructions made last Feb. 5 were stopped by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York “due to consideration of suspicious transaction.”

Committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona III noted that the payment instructions – covering $850 million – were made in just two seconds.

Only five payment instructions went through in the amount of $81 million.

Wong also complained of being harassed by men claiming to be National Bureau of Investigation agents since his name was mentioned in the money laundering case. He claimed he had been served a search warrant addressed to a different person. His lawyer Inocencio Ferrer Jr. said a sealed box allegedly from RCBC was delivered to the house of Wong. The messenger was allegedly from LBC but was not in uniform so they refused to receive the box.

Also at the hearing, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Sens. Vicente Sotto III, Aquilino Pimentel III and Juan Edgardo Angara took turns grilling Philrem’s Bautista and his wife, Salud.

“It occurs to me that you are protecting Mr. Kim Wong,” Recto told Salud, noting that she never mentioned Wong’s name in previous hearings.

He cited Salud’s admission in the first hearing that she delivered P600 million to Weikang Xu. It was only in the second hearing, Recto noted, when Salud mentioned the additional P80 million.

“It seems Philrem has a starring role in the controversy,” Sotto said.

RCBC president on leave Lorenzo Tan said he was informed about the stolen fund only when it had already left the bank.

“Our threshold for reporting remittances to higher management is P1 billion. Only transactions that are beyond reason, beyond ordinary course of business reach me,” he said.

AMLC executive director Julia Bacay-Abad said they are still gathering more evidence against those linked to the scandal.

The Department of Justice, meanwhile, said it is set to summon Wong and Weikang Xu to answer criminal charges stemming from the $81-million heist. - With Lawrence Agcaoili, Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Helen Flores, Eva Visperas

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