RCBC branch manager to tell all in executive session

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After keeping her silence for the most part of a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday on the $81-million money laundering issue, a bank manager at the center of the controversy is expected to reveal today everything she knows in an executive session. 

But Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee investigating the case, said he would first ask members of the panel if they still want to hear the side of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito in an executive session when the hearing resumes today.

In a related development, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is also set to summon Deguito in its preliminary investigation into the money laundering charges filed against her and four others by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

Guingona had actually wanted Deguito to tell her story in an executive session after last Tuesday’s hearing but the latter said she was already tired after sitting through the five-hour inquiry.

If the committee members agree to hold an executive session for Deguito, Guingona said he would also invite the members of the AMLC to join them.

At the hearing last Tuesday, Deguito declined to answer most of the questions raised by the senators, citing her right against self-incrimination.

Deguito noted that the AMLC has filed a criminal complaint against her before the DOJ so any statement she makes before the Blue Ribbon committee could be used against her.

In an executive session, only the senators and their staff are allowed inside and everything disclosed would be treated as confidential.

At least four senators – Guingona, Ralph Recto, Sergio Osmeña III and Juan Edgardo Angara – have indicated their desire to listen to what Deguito has to say in executive session.

Osmeña said he has a lot of questions for Deguito, such as how the four accounts used to receive the $81 million stolen from the Bank of Bangladesh’s account in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York were set up and if the holders of the accounts actually exist.

He also wants to find out why Deguito opened an account for businessman William Go, which ended up receiving all of the funds from the four accounts.

Go has denied owning the account at the Jupiter Street, Makati City branch of RCBC and claimed that Deguito had admitted her participation in the scheme involving the $81 million.

EWB exec’s side sought

Osmeña said he also wants to hear the side of Alan Peñalosa, the Fort Bonifacio branch manager of EastWest Bank, who – as claimed by Go – set up the meeting between the businessman and Deguito early this year.

Guingona said Peñalosa has been invited to today’s hearing.

Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes has indicated his desire to sit in the executive session, but Osmeña said this would not be allowed.

Almost every resource person who spoke during last Tuesday’s hearing, from RCBC president and CEO Lorenzo Tan to Go and Philrem Service Corp. president Salud Bautista, have identified Deguito as the person principally involved in the various transactions related to the $81 million.

In her earlier statements, Deguito noted that top officials of RCBC, including Tan, gave her the clearance for the transactions.

Tan has denied any knowledge of or participation in the transactions or knowing Deguito personally.

Deguito had claimed it was Tan who recruited her to RCBC from EastWest Bank.

Recto said he believes there is a connection between the alleged hackers who pulled off the $81-million heist and the top officials of RCBC.

“There is no doubt that a huge syndicate is involved here. It is also clear that there is a connection between the hackers and the bank and so we need to find out who in RCBC is the connection,” Recto said.

According to Osmeña, it would be up to the members of the Blue Ribbon committee to decide if the statements of Deguito in executive session would be released or kept confidential.

He said that usually only matters involving national security are kept confidential.

For today’s hearing, Osmeña said the discussion would center on the casinos involved in the issue, particularly Solaire, City of Dreams and Midas.

Osmeña said they would try to trace where the amount each of the casinos received out of the $81 million ended up.

Former justice secretary Leila de Lima said Deguito should tell all at the Senate hearing.

“Undoubtedly, either she (Deguito) is the lone culprit or the convenient scapegoat in this crime. But since it is highly unlikely that she was the mastermind, she remains to be the key in unraveling this complex hacking and money-laundering operation, and is therefore indispensable in identifying the people actually behind it,” De Lima, who is running for senator, said.

Not quick enough

Osmeña also said the AMLC may not have acted fast enough to stop the release of the $81 million.

In the hearing, Osmeña said the senators hope to determine why AMLC did not immediately launch a probe after the Bank of Bangladesh alerted the Philippines of the loss of the amount.

“That is one of the loose ends we would like to tie up,” Osmeña said.

Even a formal inquiry into the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), the state-owned gaming regulator, came only last week, or nearly a month since the Bangladesh Bank alerted the Philippines of the loss of the $81 million to hackers believed to be Chinese.

AMLC, the interagency committee tasked to investigate money-laundering activities in the country, sent a letter to Pagcor only on March 9.

But the letter, according to Pagcor chairman Cristino Naguiat, “was only to inquire how many licensees Pagcor has (in its 100-hectare Entertainment City and Clark).” 

Banking sources observed that the AMLC may have acted too late in ordering the freezing of accounts of those allegedly involved in the fraudulent scheme.

Naguiat said that while one of the loose ends in the ongoing case really points to the systemic failure of banks to assess whether the money that went through the system was clean or not, Pagcor nonetheless supports the inclusion of casinos in the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Law.

“We are very open to be part of AMLA. We have already told Congress that we are willing to be covered by AMLA,” Naguiat said at Tuesday’s hearing. – With Helen Flores, Paolo Romero, Iris Gonzales, Edu Punay

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