Malacañang backs calls to scrutinize casinos

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MALACAÑANG on Thursday backed calls for stricter monitoring of financial transactions in casinos in the wake of reports that some $100 million in “dirty” money was laundered in these gaming facilities.

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Congress is also poised to conduct its own inquiry.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) are mandated to ensure the country’s good financial standing.

“The government is determined to maintain the country’s good standing with the international financial system. Hence, the [AMLC] is tasked with ensuring the integrity of financial and banking transactions,” according to Coloma.

“Pursuant to this mandate, the AMLC is addressing the concerns pertaining to the alleged money laundering activities in the casinos that were reported recently,” he said.

Coloma added that the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) is particularly responsible for watching over operations of casinos.

The SEC has revived calls to include casinos in the list of institutions obliged to report any suspicious monetary transaction to the AMLC, which is a preemptive move against any possible inclusion of the Philippines in the “gray list” of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Under the law, foreign exchange corporations, money changers, insurance companies, securities brokers and dealers and property firms are required to report suspicious transactions regardless of the amount, and any transactions of P500,000 and above to the AMLC .

The AMLC is composed of the governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as chairman, and the commissioner of the Insurance Commission and the SEC chairman as members.

Coloma, meanwhile, said  Pagcor has started its own inquiry into the matter and is expecting the casinos to “submit their comments on the allegation as an initial step in the investigation.”

“As the regulatory body for all gaming-related firms, Pagcor requires all casino operators to institute strict internal control policies on funds movements…and to open their respective financial transactions for scrutiny by the government agency,” he added.

The FATF placed the country on its “gray list” three years ago, which compelled the government to pass certain amendments to the law.

Being placed under the “gray list’ means that the anti-money laundering measures of the Philippines are inadequate, which could discourage legitimate investments from coming into the country.

The Manila Times had run a series regarding this issue years ago, reporting, among others, how drug traffickers clinch their deals in casinos where transactions are made using chips instead of cash.

Drug dealers and their cohorts prefer casinos because drug money can be laundered easily there.

Probe

Senator Sergio Osmeña 3rd said the congressional oversight committee on the anti-money laundering law will start its inquiry into the reported laundering of $100 million through banks and casinos.

The committee, headed by Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, will grill AMLC officials.

“Then we will ask the PhilRemit people through whom the money was remitted to this country, and then we will ask the two or three banks to give us their inputs,” Osmeña said also on Thursday.

The $100 million entered the country through a transaction made by Philremit with the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC).

The bank informed the AMLC about the transaction.

The money was then laundered in at least three big casinos, making it difficult to trace.
Osmena said that although there is no way to trace where the $100 million ended up, the government can still go after PhilRemit.

“You can run after them and ask them how the money enter[ed]the country and why did [they]allow it to come in? You’re supposed to know your customer,” he added.

The senator said the non-inclusion of casinos in the list of institutions covered by the amended anti-money laundering law is one of the reasons why the money was laundered.
Republic Act 10365, which further strengthens the AMLA, was signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in 2013.

The Senate version of the measure included casinos in the list of financial institutions that should report suspicious transactions but the provision was removed during the bicameral conference committee meeting after the House contingent asked for exclusion of the casinos.

OFWs affected

Also on Thursday, senatorial bet Susan “Toots” Ople urged national candidates to present their position on the proposal to mandate casinos to report all suspicious financial transactions to the AMLC.

Ople warned that any move by the FATF to blacklist the Philippines for failing to curb money laundering will affect overseas Filipino workers.

“Millions of overseas Filipinos will once again bear the brunt of any sanctions to be imposed by the FATF in terms of higher remittance costs and more stringent requirements in sending money back home,” she said.

OFWs around the world sent $26.92 billion to the country in 2014.

“Our voters deserve to know where each national candidate stands on the issue of including casinos in the list of institutions to be covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act. I fully support the SEC’s proposal to amend the law so that casinos would be included,” Ople said.

The AMLA was amended four times last year to expand the list of predicate crimes and institutions covered by the law.

Reports said the $100 million that was laundered in Philippine banks and casinos was stolen by hackers from a bank overseas.

The money was coursed to a RCBC-Makati City branch, converted to pesos, consolidated into a single corporate account of a Chinese-Filipino businessman and then used to either “buy chips” or “pay for casino losses” incurred at Solaire Resort and Casino, City of Dreams Manila and Midas Hotel and Casino before being moved back to bank accounts overseas.

Ople further warned that the incident would once again catch the attention of the FATF.
“We should not allow the money laundering syndicate involved in this scam to get away [with it],” she said.

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