THE Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on Tuesday slapped money-laundering charges against two businessmen linked to the controversial transfer of the $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Bank to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC).
In a nine-page complaint filed at the Department of Justice, the AMLC accused Kam Sin Wong, a.k.a. Kim Wong, and Weikang Xu of laundering “hacked” or stolen funds from New York that ended up in local casinos.
Wong has been tagged as the mastermind of the money-laundering scheme. He flew out of the country when the controversy broke out.
On the other hand, Xu is said to be a junket operator who allegedly owned the bank accounts where the funds ended up.
The two businessmen have been tagged as the main players who facilitated the illegal transfer of the funds in connivance with their local bank contacts.
The AMLC complaint stemmed from testimonies of witnesses who appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee that also investigated the scam.
Xu was said to have received $30.5 million from withdrawals he made between February 5 and 13 this year.
Wong, president and general manager of Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. Ltd., was also accused of amassing P1 billion ($21.6 million) through several withdrawals he made from his personal and corporate accounts on February 10 and 11 this year.
During the hearings, it was claimed that Wong introduced RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito to individuals who opened bogus bank accounts where the stolen money was wired.
The AMLC earlier filed money-laundering charges against Deguito at the Justice department.
Deguito was summoned to answer charges during preliminary investigation set on April 12 and 19.
Sen. Sergio Osmena 3rd claimed that Wong appears to have masterminded the operation and that Deguito may not be the “most guilty” and thus, could be considered a credible witness to indict the other suspects.
Osmeña said Deguito told senators that Wong asked her to open the bank accounts where the $81 million was wired, with the instruction to use the services of foreign exchange remittance company Philrem Services Inc.
Wong reportedly gave Deguito the information sheets and the P$2,500 to open five dollar accounts.
Only four of the accounts, however, were used when the stolen money was wired to the Philippines.
The fifth account, under the name Picache, was not used, according to Deguito.
The addresses given by the four account owners turned out to be fictitious.
The AMLC admitted that it was clueless about the transfer of the $81 million.
Julia Abad, executive director of the AMLC, said the country learned of the money laundering only when the governor of the Bangladesh Bank called Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. on February 11.
“There’s no way we would have known [without the Bangladesh Bank notice],” she told reporters.
Abad said that when the $81 million was deposited in the RCBC Jupiter Branch, the transaction was automatically recorded in the AMLC’s database.
It was not looked into, however, because the amount is considered “normal” given the “other bigger transactions reported to the AMLC” everyday.
The AMLC started its initial investigation and called the RCBC Jupiter Branch to gather details after the agency was alerted by Bangladesh.
But RCBC submitted a transaction report only on February 12.
“We conducted initial investigation, and they submitted a suspicious transaction report.
The suspicious transaction report will trigger the investigation. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to discover,” Abad said.
When asked why the AMLC took long in filing the petition to freeze the concerned accounts — only doing so on February 29 — the AMLC executive director said the AMLC did fast data gathering, verifications and investigation but the number of weekends and holidays hampered the process.
She noted that thousands of bank transactions enter their database each day but the agency only has 28 personnel looking at these transactions and only nine of them are financial analysts.
Abad said the agency will ask Congress to amend the Anti-Money Laundering Act so that casinos and real-estate brokers can be covered by the law.
She pointed to the need to strengthen supervisory powers of the BSP and to lift the bank secrecy law.
Abad said the Philippines is one of two countries that do not cover casinos in their anti-money laundering laws.
“The Philippines is [also]only 1 of 3 countries in the entire world where tax authorities cannot access bank transactions [Switzerland and Lebanon being the other two], and remain only one of two countries in the world where tax evasion is not a predicate crime to money laundering,” Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said.