• Duterte signs law placing casinos under dirty money watch

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    President Rodrigo Duterte has signed a law placing casino operations under the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) in a bid to curb illegal financial transactions following the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist.

    Republic Act (RA) 10927, a copy of which was released by Malacañang on Wednesday, amended RA 9160 or the 2001 AMLA, to expand the list of covered persons and transactions.

    With the new law, casinos, including Internet and ship-based operations, are now considered “covered persons” under the AMLA.

    The law requires the reporting of casino transactions worth at least P5 million, or its equivalent in other currencies, to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The council, formed under AMLA, is tasked to monitor suspicious financial transactions.

    The law defines casino as “a business authorized by the appropriate government agency to engage in gaming operations.”

    Under RA 10927, the Court of Appeals can issue a 20-day freeze order on any monetary instrument or property suspected to be related to unlawful activity. During that period, the court will conduct a summary hearing to determine whether to lift or extend the freeze order. The total period of the freeze order shall not exceed six months.

    In February last year, unidentified hackers transferred $81 million from Bangladesh’s account with the New York Federal Reserve to four accounts at a Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch in Makati.

    The money was later moved to casinos, which were at the time exempted from dirty money watchdogs’ scrutiny. The embarrassing incident prompted Congress to amend the AMLA and include casinos among covered transactions.

    No more blacklisting?

    Following the signing of RA 10927, Sen. Francis Escudero said he was hopeful the inclusion of casinos under the coverage of the AMLA would be “enough” for the Philippines to avoid getting blacklisted by the global anti-money laundering watchdog.

    The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has warned that it could blacklist the Philippines if it failed to include casinos under the AMLA. It means the country will be subjected to stringent financial monitoring that might affect remittances from overseas Filipino workers.

    Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies, noted that even after the enactment of Republic Act 10365 in 2013, which further strengthened RA 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001, casinos were still not covered by AMLA.

    Duterte approved RA 10927 a week before the AMLC officials flew to Colombo, Sri Lanka for the Annual Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) Meeting and Forum on Technical Assistance on July 21.

    “Now that we have already complied with the guidelines, we are hopeful that the country will no longer be put in the blacklist,” Escudero said.

    “ AMLC was able to update the APG during their annual meeting in Sri Lanka that we have already passed the law. But according to them, the APG will still be monitoring the country until the law is already in force,” he added.

    with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO

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