“Bigger” persons are behind the laundering in the Philippines of $81 million stolen from a foreign central bank and the chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee on Friday disclosed that their names are starting to float.
Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd at the same time said he is convinced that Maia Santos-Deguito, manager of Jupiter Branch in Makati City of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) where the $81 million was deposited, is not the “most guilty” in the controversy and the blue ribbon committee is determined in pursuing other individuals involved.
The Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) also on Friday confirmed that Deguito has been receiving death threats arising from the money mess.
In an interview after the Senate hearing on the laundering controversy, Guingona said it
appears that there are “bigger” persons behind the mess and their names are beginning to emerge based on testimonies given by Deguito during an executive session on Thursday.
“It seems right now, that she [Deguito] was, to say the least, negligent but there are bigger persons behind this whole thing, and [their]names are coming out already,” he added.
The Jupiter Branch bank manager, at the resumption of the hearing by the Senate blue ribbon committee on the $81-million heist, linked RCBC president Lorenzo Tan to Kim Wong, whom she claimed to be the one who referred the opening of the dollar accounts of Michael Cruz, Jessie Lagrosas, Alfred Vergara and Enrico Vasquez on May 2015, with an initial deposit of $500 each.
The four accounts remained idle for several months and it was only last February when huge dollar deposits went to the accounts.
The biggest deposit was made to the account of Lagrosas amounting to $30 million.
Some P19 million entered the Vergara account, $25 million the Vasquez and $6 million the Cruz account.
These deposits were where withdrawn and deposited to the RCBC account of businessman William Go, who owns Centurytex Trading, a brokerage firm.
Go denied owning the account and insisted that he never opened an account in RCBC Jupiter Branch.
Deguito claimed Wong is a friend of Tan because it was the RCBC president who instructed her during a birthday party of a common friend, Jason Go, to “take care” of Wong.
The RCBC manager said she personally knew Wong when she was still with the Export Bank back in 2009.
When asked what Tan meant when she was told to take care of Wong, Deguito said she it means that she should give “preferential treatment” to Wong.
But the RCBC president denied the statement of the bank manager and insisted that he has no business with Wong although he admitted that he met him in 2002.
Guingona, however, said that it is premature to conclude that Tan might have some involvement in the controversy, noting that the hearing is ongoing and that the committee is still far from wrapping up its investigation.
He admitted that the names of two other RCBC officials were mentioned by Deguito in the executive session and whom the committee might invite to the next hearing.
“There are names that came out as we dig deeper into the issue and I don’t see this hearing ending soon,” the blue ribbon chairman said.
Senator Sergio Osmena 3rd, in a separate interview, said Deguito might not be a major player in the heist and it is obvious that there are bigger individuals behind her.
He added that Deguito is just one of the many participants and it seems that Wong is one of the major players.
“Well, she could be a semi [player]but not the major [player]. There was an orchestrator and that looks like that [it]is Kim Wong,” Osmena said.
A remittance company that converted most of the stolen cash could also be in deep trouble despite its offer to return some P10 million it earned for its services.
“Well, it’s a good gesture but we have a few more questions for Philrem,” Osmena said.
According to the senator, the penalty in the law is two times the amount, meaning that if the amount involved is $81 million, then the remittance firm should return $162 million.
“So the penalty is not what you earn from it, the penalty is two times the amount plus up to 14 years in jail. So this is a rather serious point,” Osmena said.
PhilRem president Salud Bautista during the Senate hearing said the company will return the P10.4 million it earned for the stolen $81 million that entered the country through RCBC.
PhilRem converted some of the amount to pesos and delivered the money in cash tranches to registered casino junket operator Kam Sin Wong, Bloomberry Hotels Incorporated (Solaire Resort & Casino) and Eastern Hawaii Leisure Company.
Meanwhile, the VACC also on Friday confirmed that the threats to Deguito’s safety are real and no less than the Jupiter Branch bank manager asked for the support of the organization.
According to Dante Jimenez, founding chairman of the group, Deguito through a letter asked for theVACC’s support because of the powerful personalities involved in the controversy.
Deguito, during the Senate hearing, denied a statement of RCBC Jupiter Branch customer service head Romualdo Agarrado, who claimed hearing Deguito say that she needs to process a P20-million withdrawal from Go’s account, otherwise, she or her family will be killed.
In a handwritten letter supposedly signed by Deguito to Jimenez dated March 14, 2016, the RCBC branch manager asked for the assistance of the VACC on matters of security and her safety because of the powerful people involved in the controversy.
“Due to the involvement of powerful personalities in the said controversy, she hereby respectfully requests the support of your organization on matters of her safety, security as well as moral support,” Deguito stated in her letter to VACC.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a subpoena to Deguito, ordering her to appear before the department on April 12 and 19.
This is in connection with the money-laundering case filed against her before the Justice department by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
Deguito will undergo preliminary investigation and be given the time to rebut the allegations filed against her.
She was also ordered to submit proof and documents that shall rebut the charges filed against her.
The subpoena was issued by Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra, who will conduct the probe.
Deguito was also mandated to file her counter-affidavits and supporting documents to prove her innocence.
The charge filed against Deguito originated from the AMLC case after she approved the opening of bank accounts wherein the $81 million is being suspected as laundered money from the Bangladesh Bank.
The DOJ also ordered to appear before it four John Does, who own the bank accounts allegedly involved in the case and where the money was transferred.
Among those being implicated were Michael Franciso Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara and Enrico Teodoro Vasquez.
The AMLC, in its nine-page complaint affidavit, alleged that Deguito failed to verify the owner of the supposed bank accounts and she even ordered the withdrawal of the same
despite the formal request of stop payment from the Bangladesh Bank.
WITH JOMAR CANLAS