RCBC fires bank manager
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - March 22, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) has terminated a branch manager and her assistant for “violating bank policies and procedures and falsification of commercial documents,” specifically their alleged unauthorized creation of accounts where more than $81 million electronically stolen from Bangladesh ended up.

The termination of Maia Santos-Deguito, manager of RCBC’s branch on Jupiter Street in Makati, and assistant manager Angela Torres came days after they testified before the Senate Blue Ribbon committee that their actions had the blessings of RCBC higher-ups.

“Deguito and Torres’ breaches facilitated the alleged laundering of $81 million of remittance that is now being investigated by the Senate and other government agencies. Appropriate charges in court will be filed by the bank against them by next week,” RCBC legal head Macel Fernandez-Estavillo said in a statement.

The RCBC official said more bank officials may face sanctions ranging from suspension to termination pending the completion of an internal investigation.

The two officials are also facing additional charges of falsification of documents from businessman William Go in whose alleged bank account part of the stolen money was deposited and later withdrawn.

“We are collating all documents related to the dollar and peso accounts opened under Mr. Go’s name at the Jupiter branch,” said Go’s lawyer Ramon Esguerra.

“She has been dragging my client into this issue. So we are readying the additional charges,” the lawyer said, reiterating that Go never consented to the opening of accounts with the Jupiter branch.

Esguerra said the charges are different from the falsification of documents earlier filed against Deguito before the Makati Prosecutors Office, which was in connection with the forging of Go’s signature in the withdrawal slip for P20 million.

Esguerra said their camp has requested documents from RCBC on the dollar and peso accounts in question so that they can use them as evidence against Dequito.

No demand for 10 percent

In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Esguerra also denied Go had asked for 10 percent of the stolen funds.

On the contrary, it was Deguito who offered Go P10 million for using bogus accounts opened in the Jupiter branch in his name and which were used in moving the $81 million, the lawyer said.

He stressed that his client was not interested in any monetary offer and “was adamant in telling Ms. Deguito and RCBC to clear his name.”

“Mr. Go’s genuine signatures are very much different from those on the account opening form,” Esguerra said, pointing to the two sets of signatures.

He said this was also the conclusion of RCBC, which engaged the help of handwriting experts from Truth Verifier Systems, Inc.

“RCBC has cleared my client. He did not own those two accounts opened in the Jupiter branch, he had no knowledge of them and he made no transactions in those accounts,” he said.

He added that Go has an existing corporate account only in RCBC-Trinoma Mall (Quezon City) branch.

Asked whether his client would sue RCBC, Esguerra said, “Yes, for consequential damages. They did not exercise due diligence in choosing their branch officers.”

On the statement of Sen. Serge Osmeña III that senators found Deguito to be a credible witness, Go’s lawyer said, “That’s their impression. But the better approach would be to look at everything, including documents. And a document has greater weight than a statement.”

As for the claim of Torres that she saw Go receive the P20 million while he was in his “dark gray Lexus sport utility vehicle,” Esguerra said this was contradicted by another Jupiter branch officer, Romualdo Agarrado, who had told senators that he saw the money loaded into Deguito’s car and that she drove off with it.

The lawyer admitted that his client owns a Lexus, “but it’s not dark gray, it’s light-colored, more like beige or champagne.”

More charges

Meanwhile, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has filed criminal complaints against two more individuals in connection with the issue.

The AMLC yesterday filed similar charges of money laundering under Section 4 of the Anti-Money Laundering Act against businessmen Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong and Weikang Xu.

In its nine-page complaint, the council alleged that about $21.6 million of the laundered amount went to Wong and some $59.2 million to Xu.

Wong’s lawyer Victor Fernandez said his client returned to the country last Sunday from Singapore and is ready to testify before the Senate. The lawyer also questioned the timing of the filing of the complaint.

“The timing of the case filing is suspicious. It is our impression that some very powerful people are afraid of what our client will disclose, that’s why a premature case was filed against him by AMLC,” he said.

“They probably think that filing the case will deter our client from coming home and testifying before the Senate. They are wrong.” 

AMLC, in filing the case, cited testimonies in the recent hearings of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee on the controversy as basis for the filing of the complaint.

It alleged that from the four fictitious accounts in RCBC where the $80,884,641.63 stolen money was deposited, $30.5 million was transferred to the account of Philrem.

“Upon instruction of Ms. Maia Santos-Deguito, PhilRem personally delivered a total of $18,000,000 and P600,000,000 to respondent Xu. The delivery was spread over several days from 5 to 13 February 2016,” read the complaint, citing testimony from a PhilRem representative during the Senate hearing.

AMLC further alleged that Philrem transferred another $28.7 million to Solaire casino, which later transferred the amount to Xu, a casino junket operator, according to the casino’s corporate secretary Silverio Tan.

Wong, on the other hand, got P1 billion or about $21.6 million from the laundered amount through his firm Eastern Hawaii Leisure Company and personal bank account in the Philippine National Bank.

The council alleged that after PhilRem transferred P1 billion to Eastern Hawaii, Wong made a withdrawal amounting to P900 million from his firm’s account and transferred it to his personal PNB account, from which he later withdrew P400 million.

“Foregoing considered, probable cause exists that respondents Kam Sin Wong aka Kim Wong and Weikang Xu violated Section 4 (a) and (b) of the

Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, as amended, for having transacted and/or transferred, moved, acquired, possessed or used proceeds of an unlawful activity,” the complaint stressed.

The AMLC earlier filed a similar complaint against Deguito and four other respondents – Michael Francisco Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara and Enrico Teodoro Vasquez, the supposed owners of the bank accounts where the $80,884,641.63 stolen from the Bangladesh Bank by hackers went.

The council included the four individuals in the complaint despite an initial finding that these names might be fictitious.

Prompt action

AMLC executive director Julia Bacay-Abad, meanwhile, said they acted immediately after getting information on the suspicious movement of the $81 million.

She explained the AMLC got in touch with the banks involved in the alleged money laundering anomaly last Feb. 12 after which the concerned financial institutions submitted suspicious transaction report.

RCBC reportedly received a stop payment order as early as Feb. 8.

Abad said officials of the Bangladesh Bank went to AMLC last Feb. 16 to submit documents on the $81 million stolen from their account in the US Federal Reserve in New York.

She pointed out the AMLC received over 36 million covered transaction reports as well as 146,308 suspicious transaction reports in 2015 alone.

“We are receiving millions of transaction reports and the AMLC cannot look into all those transactions,” she said.

Abad explained the Information Management and Analysis Group of AMLC only has 28 personnel and only nine were financial analysts.

After completing its initial investigation, the agency’s financial intelligence unit (FIU) submitted its recommendations to the AMLC last Feb 22.

She revealed the AMLC then forwarded the matter to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) which has to approve all the pleadings of the state.

Abad said the AMLC received the reply from the OSG for the petition to file a freeze order before the Court of Appeals (CA) at 3:30 p.m. of Feb. 29 and it failed to meet the 4 p.m. deadline of the appellate court.

The CA issued the freeze order on the accounts involved on March 1.

However, the $81 million deposited in the four alleged fake accounts was withdrawn as early as Feb. 9.

To expedite the process, Abad said there is a need to further amend the AMLA to put more teeth into the AMLC. Since the law was passed in 2001, the law has been amended thrice through RA 9194 in 2003, RA 10167 in 2012 and RA 10365 in 2013.

She pointed out the amendments should include casinos and real estate brokers in the list of covered institutions.

Former Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) president Aurelio Luis Montinola III also expressed support for the inclusion of casinos in the coverage of the anti-money laundering law. 

“It is also good to selectively ease up on the bank secrecy law, particularly for public officials and those charged with crimes,” he added.

Foreign Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, for his part, said there is no need to recalibrate Philippine foreign policy to correct the impression that the country is a money-laundering haven. “As I said, there is very little government intervention in the remittance procedures towards private banks.”

Clashing opinions

Senators, meanwhile, clashed on the idea of tapping Deguito as state witness.

Sens. Sergio Osmena III and Aquilino Pimentel III agreed that Deguito can be a potential state witness.

“We offered Maia (to be included in the) Witness Protection Program but she turned it down,” said Osmena, chairman of the Senate committee on banks and financial institutions.

However, Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said there is a need to establish first Deguito’s role before she can be tapped as state witness.

“I don’t think that’s proper at this point. Being a state witness means she must not be the most guilty, but according to the testimonies during the hearing, she appears to be one of the main actors in this scheme,” Ejercito added.

“In fact, aside from her former senior customer relations officer, all other witnesses are contradicting her claim of innocence in this story,” Ejercito added.

Since much of the amount went through Philippine Remittance Company, Pimentel said its owner Salud Bautista and her husband Michael can also be indicted over the fiasco. – Christina Mendez, Lawrence Agcaoili, Jess Diaz, Ted Torres, Pia Lee Brago

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