RCBC president goes on leave
Lawrence Agcaoili (The Philippine Star) - March 23, 2016 - 10:00am

Chairperson takes over operations

MANILA, Philippines – The president of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) has gone on leave as the bank tries to come to terms with the involvement of some of its officials in an $81-million heist.

The bank’s board of directors said it has granted the second offer of president Lorenzo Tan to go on leave to allow him to focus on clearing his name in the money laundering issue being investigated by a board committee. The committee is assisted by SGV auditors and external counsels.

The eldest of the eight children of taipan Alfonso Yuchengco is set to take over the helm of RCBC.

In a statement, the bank said chairperson Helen Yuchengco- Dee would take over and a management committee led by vice chairman Cesar Virata and Armando Medina would assist her in running the bank. RCBC said Tan insisted on taking a leave.

Dismissed Jupiter branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito dragged Tan into the scandal by implying he had knowledge of her opening spurious accounts for the laundered funds.

The Bangladesh Bank owned the $81 million stolen by Chinese hackers from its Federal Reserve Bank of New York account.

“So far, no evidence has been presented against Tan linking him to the issue and the board has taken cognizance of the statement of Deguito before the Senate that Tan had nothing to do with the opening of the accounts that received the $81-million remittance,” the bank said.

Last March 12, the bank’s board turned down Tan’s offer to go on leave.

Lawyer Francis Lim of ACCRA Law earlier said the bank’s owners and management have vouched for the integrity of Tan.

“The bank’s board thanked him for his gentlemanly and decent gesture but said their trust in him is intact and unshaken,” Lim said.

Tan has vehemently denied involvement in the alleged multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme that is now subject of an investigation by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

“I condemn as malicious and actionable insinuations that the top management of the bank knew of and tolerated alleged money laundering activities in one branch. I will fully cooperate with all ongoing inquiries and believe that I and consequently the bank’s management will be fully vindicated,” Tan said.

Macel Fernandez-Estavillo, legal and regulatory affairs head at RCBC, announced on Wednesday the bank has terminated Deguito and senior customer representative officer Angela Torres for violating bank policies and procedures and for falsification of commercial documents.

Estavillo maintained more heads are expected to roll as the RCBC is looking at all angles in the money laundering scandal.

“Other branch and bank officials are expected to be meted out various sanctions ranging from termination to suspension in the coming days when the internal investigation is expected to be completed,” she added.

She said appropriate charges would be filed by RCBC against Deguito and Torres by next week.

Apology

RCBC yesterday also issued an apology to the bank’s shareholders, clients and the general banking public for the culpability of its personnel in the money laundering issue.

“RCBC offers its sincerest apologies for the involvement of its personnel in the money laundering scheme now subject of Senate Blue Ribbon and AMLC investigations,” the bank said in a full-page advertisement.

The bank said it is also conducting its own inquiry to identify and address “any weaknesses in its controls and operations which may have facilitated the scheme.”

“Needless to say, it will take appropriate action against any bank officer or staff found guilty of fault or negligence,” it pointed out.

“RCBC recognizes the evils wrought by money laundering and will do its utmost in the fight against it,” the bank said.

The AMLC has filed criminal complaints against Deguito and several others in connection with the issue.

A lawyer of one of those facing charges said his client is not in hiding and is in fact ready to face investigators to clear his name.

Victor Fernandez, counsel for Kim Wong, said the latter is ready to tell all before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on March 29.

Fernandez said his client returned to the country from Singapore last Sunday.

Fernandez questioned the timing of the filing before the Department of Justice of a money laundering complaint against his client by AMLC.

“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,” he said.

Wong’s counsel said he was surprised that a criminal complaint was filed against his client based solely on the statement of Dequito before the Senate committee.

“The investigation is still ongoing yet the AMLC used the transcript of stenographic notes as their only basis for the complaint. Why is the AMLC in such a hurry?” he added.

‘Inhospitable’ to launderers

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), meanwhile, vowed to make the Philippines “inhospitable” to launderers and other groups specializing in financial fraud.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr. vowed to leave no stone unturned and hold all those involved accountable under the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

“Investigations commenced earlier and still ongoing. Charges have not been filed in court and we are not ruling out additional charges,” he said.

Tetangco also chairs the AMLC, which has filed criminal cases against Deguito, Kam Sin Wong or Kim Wong, Xu Weikang and others before the DOJ.

The BSP chief lamented AMLA has made the work of AMLC difficult.

“AMLC is an investigative body. When an investigation is started, the unlawful activity has already been committed,” he added.

Tetangco pointed out there is a need to relax Republic Act1406 or the Bank Secrecy Law of 1995 “under certain conditions.”

 “We need to make the Philippines inhospitable to money laundering as a jurisdiction,” he said.

BSP deputy governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. echoed Tetangco’s call, saying banks or bankers involved in the bank heist would be held accountable.

“You can be assured that banks that fail to perform their responsibilities will be held accountable,” Espenilla said in a text message to reporters.

Espenilla, who heads the BSP’s Supervision and Examination Sector (SES), said the bank regulator would review all relevant regulations to minimize or eliminate risks that make possible the laundering of dirty money in the country.

Julia Bacay-Abad, executive director of AMLC, for her part, expressed belief the Philippines is not a safe haven for money laundering.

“I would like to believe that we are not a haven for money laundering. Money laundering could happen anywhere,” she added.

Since AMLA’s enactment in 2001, Abad said AMLC has filed 365 anti-money laundering cases before the DOJ, the Office of the Ombudsman, Sandiganbayan and regular courts. Of the cases filed, 250 were resolved while 115 are still pending.

The agency has forfeited P4.83 billion, including P1.5 billion that was returned to victims or investors.

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