Claiming that she was just a “pawn” in a game played by giants, Maia Santos-Deguito, the former bank manager of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Jupiter Branch in Makati City (Metro Manila), said the transfer of the $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Bank was made possible with the participation of high-ranking bank officials, including RCBC President Lorenzo Tan.
“If this committee is looking for the ‘grandmaster,’ it is not me. The line runs much higher and involves persons with much more clout and authority than a simple bank manager with modest capability,” Deguito told senators when she appeared before the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday.
She said she is just a pawn in a “high-stakes chess game played by giants in international banking and high finance.”
“Other resource persons have laid practically all of the blame on me for the alleged money-laundering, as if I have the resources at my mid-management level to put all the pieces in the place for a crime involving almost P4 billion,” Deguito also told the senators.
She said a crime of such magnitude could only have been carried out with the participation of higher bank officials in cahoots with businessmen with far-reaching powers and whose influence spans several countries.
Deguito again denied any involvement in the transfer of the stolen money, insisting that she was used as a scapegoat by people behind the scam.
“If there is a conspiracy as some honorable senators have publicly stated, I have no knowledge of it,” she said.
Deguito added that the only mistake she made is trusting and following the instructions of Tan that she “take care” of his friend, casino junket operator Kam Sin Wong, who is also known as Kim Wong.
In her previous testimony, she claimed that 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.
When asked what Tan meant when she was told to take care of Wong, Deguito said it means that she should give “preferential treatment” to Wong.
The RCBC president, however, denied Deguito’s claim.
Although Tan admitted knowing Wong, he insisted that he had no business with the latter.
But the camp of Tan dismissed Deguito’s statement as a “wild narrative.”
“We of course know where Miss Deguito is coming from when, out of the blue, she said that she was a mere victim of this cyber heist and that her only fault was in obeying the supposed order from her erstwhile boss, Mr. Tan, for her to take care of his friends,” Tan’s lawyer Francis Lim said.
Tan recalled that Deguito admitted under oath in a previous Senate hearing that he never instructed her to open any account at the RCBC Jupiter Branch, and that she merely assumed that he knew of the transaction.
“I only knew Deguito as one of 470-plus branch managers at the bank,” he said in a statement.
Tan’s lawyer said Deguito’s statement where she portrayed herself as a mother who is working to earn a living with her husband and children is “a poor attempt to gain sympathy for her plight despite her knowledge that what she was doing was contrary to bank regulations, in violation of Bangko Sentral rules, and in disregard of best practices as a banker of over 20 years of experience in the industry.”
Deguito’s statement, he said, was written by her lawyers and the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption who had been with her in the Senate hearings for the sole purpose of deflecting attention and to drag and destroy Tan’s reputation.
“This new tack of Deguito and her supporters is a serious attempt to downplay her direct involvement in money-laundering transactions covering funds of the Bangladesh Bank, and pin the blame on Tan whose standing in the banking community has remained unblemished and unquestioned for decades,” Lim added.
Wong reiterated that in her testimony, Deguito had assured high-roller Gao Shuhua that she will take care of the opening of five dollar accounts at the Jupiter Branch where Ding Zhize could deposit his supposed investment money in the Philippine casino business.
RCBC legal affairs chief Maria Cecilia Fernandez-Estavillo also during the hearing said the bank’s Head Office was supposed to freeze the money but it eventually cleared its release because Deguito insisted that she knew the account holders and that she had been waiting for the money to be remitted ever since the accounts were opened a year ago.