• Casinos must soon report transactions of any amount

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    A bill mandating casinos to report all suspicious transactions to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) regardless of the amount involved has been proposed in the House of Representatives.

    Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. made the pitch under his House Bill 14 or the Casino Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism Act, which will require casinos (including Internet-based casinos and ship-based) regulated and supervised by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority or any other appropriate supervising authority to report suspicious and covered transactions to the AMLC.

    Money laundering is defined as “a crime whereby the proceeds of an unlawful activity are transacted, thereby making them appear to have originated from legitimate sources.”

    Belmonte’s bill states that regardless of the amount involved, a suspicious transaction exists when a casino operator or any of its employees knows, suspects, has reason to suspect, or should have known by due diligence that the transaction: a) involves funds from an unlawful activity or money laundering offense; b) is designed to evade any of the requirements under the Anti-Money Laundering Law; c) has no business or apparent lawful purpose or is not sort in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage and the casino operator or any of its employees knows of no reasonable explanation for the transaction after examining facts and background of possible purpose of transaction; and d) involves the use of casinos to facilitate unlawful activity money laundering and terrorist financing.

    Covered transaction, on the other hand, is defined as a single transaction undertaken by any individual per day with the casino exceeding P4 million.

    A covered and suspicious transaction will be considered a suspicious transaction, while covered transactions do not include check-out transactions to the extent the currency is won in a money play and is the same currency the customer wagered in the money play; and check-in transaction to the extent the currency is the same currency the customer previously wagered in a money play on the same table game without leaving the table and as well as jackpot winnings from slot machines.

    “The significance of including the casino sector under the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Law was underscored by the Bangladesh Bank heist. The funds entered the Philippine banking system and made their way to local casinos and junket operators, where the money was reportedly laundered and transferred overseas,” Belmonte said in his Explanatory Note.

    The former Speaker was referring to the $81-million worth of dirty money wired to RCBC Branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City (Metro Manila) last March.

    The amount was stolen from the Bangladesh Bank account deposited in the Federal Reserve of New York.
    “Attempts to trace and recover the money encountered several setbacks, as casinos are excluded from the coverage of the country’s present AMLA laws. This bill will address this deficiency by putting the necessary amendments to discourage the use of the casinos as avenues of illicit activity,” Belmonte said.

    House Bill 14 also grants the AMLC the power to conduct on-site inspection of casino records and documents, as well as examine any particular account and related accounts with any casino operator that is deemed related to any unlawful activity or money laundering or financing of terrorism offense.

    Related accounts refers to accounts, the funds and sources of which originated from and/or materially linked to the accounts subject of a freeze order(s) issued by a competent authority or subject of an inquiry.

    “This will help ensure the integrity of financial and banking institutions in the country, and is a crucial step in making the Philippines compliant with international standards,” Belmonte said.

    His bill, however, sets limits to disclosure by providing that casino operators and its employees cannot be compelled by any body or any court to disclose a Suspicious Transaction Report, disclose the fact that an STR was filed or is about to be filed and disclose any information on the STR without prejudice to government authorities’ power to regulate.

    In addition, reports of covered and suspicious transactions to the AMLC, casino operators and their officers and employees are confidential and cannot be released to any person, including members of the media.
    Otherwise, the one who will be found violating the confidentiality rule will be held criminally liable.

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