• Bill amending anti-money laundering law pushed

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    The House Banking and Financial Intermediaries panel is racing against time to pass a bill that seeks to amend the Anti Money Laundering law to allow casino transactions to be scrutinized by the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC), a House leader said Friday.

    Rep. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, Chairman of the House Banking and Financial Intermediaries panel, said that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has set a July deadline for the Philippines to comply with the international standard that transactions in casinos should be covered by the AMLC.

    “As it is, we are not compliant with the FATF guidelines because of the exclusion of casino transactions from AMLC’s authority. This makes us vulnerable to money laundering activities, and it showed during the Bangladesh bank heist where the stolen money passed thru our casinos,” Evardone said in a phone interview.

    He was referring to the $81 million wired to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch in Jupiter St., Makati City last year. The money was stolen from the Bangladesh Central Bank’s account in the Federal Reserve of New York.

    Evardone added that casinos in Macau, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea are already complaint with FATF standards.

    “There are repercussions if we don’t meet the July deadline. That would be bad for our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Remittance centers could turn them down because the Philippines did not take the necessary steps needed to prevent money laundering. If remittance centers do not turn our OFWs down, they might resort to increasing remittance fees as a precaution,” he pointed out.

    “By May, this should be approved on third reading in the House and in the Senate because we will adjourn after that and will only resume session come the July SONA (State of the Nation Address),” Evardone added.

    The House and Senate bills are yet to be consolidated by the Technical Working Group (TWG) headed by Rep. Henry Oaminal of Misamis Occidental because the threshold amount of casino transaction per day to be covered by the AMLC remains to be settled.

    Under the existing Anti-Money Laundering law, a single transaction worth P500,000 and above in a bank are automatically flagged by the AMLC.

    “As for casinos, the proposed threshold amount from the lawmakers ranges from P4 million to P6 million transaction of a casino player per day. The casino owners want the threshold at P10 million per day because they claim it would be too tedious if they are going to report amounts smaller than P10 million, considering that there are a lot of casino players on a daily basis,” Evardone explained.

    A TWG member who asked not to be identified said lawmakers may reach a compromise and set a threshold based on the amount set by South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

    The only agency that is against the measure is the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) that regulates the gaming industry in the country.

    “Casino players and the owners have no vehement objection because they know that this would mean a reputable image for them; that casinos here are not a haven for crime. They understand that this bill is not aimed at dampening casino investments in the country,” Evardone said.

    “Pagcor is the only one opposing this because they believe they already have enough regulatory and police powers to address money laundering. But we all know that it is not true because Pagcor was helpless when the Bangladesh heist happened,” he added. LLANESCA T. PANTI

    LP/CC

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