Money laundering in the Philippines detrimental to OFWs sending remittance

Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (in Makati City) Jupiter branch manager Maia Santos Deguito faces criminal complaint filed by PH government agency Anti-Money Laundering Council before the Department of Justice.

During the Senate hearing on the alleged money laundering case involving a Philippine universal bank Tuesday, OFW advocate Susan Ople disclosed that banks in more than 10 countries and territories have ended correspondent banking operations with Philippine-based banks and remittance companies.

These foreign banks, include among others, are those in New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Ireland, Spain and Germany.

The harsh and calculated reaction is more linked to fear of violating their own anti-money laundering law given that the Philippines remains on the gray list of the Financial Action Task Force.

The Philippines was removed from the blacklist in 2005 but remains in the gray list.

In June 2012, Republic Act (RA) 10167 or the strengthening of the Anti-Money Laundering Law and RA No. 10168, which criminalizes terrorism financing as a stand-alone offense, were enacted to strengthen anti-money laundering rules. But casinos are not covered by the anti-money laundering law.

Ople said some foreign banks cut correspondent banking operations with Philippine-based financial institutions to the detriment of OFWs, who pay higher fees in sending remittances.

At the hearing, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. confirmed this situation.

He cited that “recent developments here may heighten the risk of further termination of correspondent banking accounts if we are seen as having a weak anti-money laundering counter-terrorism financing regime.”

He was referring to the case involving the Jupiter, Makati branch of Yuchengco-led Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), where five accounts were said to have received laundered money amounting to about US$ 81 million that was stolen from the Bangladesh Bank (BB), the central bank of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

The money was reported to have been hacked from the US dollar account of BB with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February 2016 and remitted to four accounts that are with the RCBC Jupiter branch.

Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Executive Director Julia Abad, during the Senate hearing, said the US $81.31 million funds were sent to the accounts of one Michael Francisco Cruz, US $6.029 million; Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, US $30.28 million; Alfred Vergara, US $19.999 million; and one Enrico Vasquez, US $25.001 million.

The accounts were opened on May 15, 2015 and remained in-active until last month when funds were withdrawn and consolidated to the account of William So Go, which was opened only on February 1 this year.

Abad said the funds were again transferred and converted to Philippine peso through the remittance firm Philrem, which also has an account with RCBC Greenhills.

The converted foreign exchange were then transferred to the account of Solaire Resort and Casino, US $29 million; and Midas Hotel and Casino, US $21.245 million; and to Kim Khang Zhou, US $30.691 million.


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