Metrobank exec probed for billion-peso theft

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BSP, bankers group, describe case as ‘isolated’

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THE central bank and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are investigating how an executive of the Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. (Metrobank) defrauded a client or clients of the second largest bank in the country of more than P1 billion at least past the bank’s internal system controls.

CAUGHT Metrobank corporate service head Ma. Victoria Lopez covers her face as she is presented by the National Bureau of Investigation to the media on Friday. Lopez, a bank vice president, is facing charges of qualified theft and violation of the General Banking Law for loaning money to a fictitious client. PHOTO BY RUSSELL PALMA

The NBI presented Maria Victoria Lopez, 53, a vice president at Metrobank’s Corporate Service Management, to the media on Friday after her arrest in an entrapment operation conducted at the bank’s main office in Makati City on Monday.

Lopez now faces charges of qualified theft, falsification of documents and violation of the General Banking Law. Qualified theft is non-bailable, a case in which the suspect is assumed to be in total control of the flow of money or transactions.

The NBI said the case involves P2.25 million in qualified theft after Lopez facilitated a total of P1.75 billion in loans to a client, who had a P25 billion standing credit line with the bank.

“She did not resist arrest,” NBI Anti-Fraud chief Irvin Garcia told The Manila Times in an interview. She has been brought to the Bureau’s detention cell in Manila for further investigation.

Garcia said Metrobank sought the Bureau’s assistance upon discovery of two loans – one P900 million and a separate P850 million – granted to a big corporate client in the amounts of P900 million and P850 million.

On July 17, Lopez was caught transferring P2.25 million in interest from the client’s savings account to a fictitious account that she had created to funnel funds as part of the fraud.

She was presented for inquest proceedings at the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office the following day. A preliminary investigation followed and Lopez has yet to file her counter affidavit.

NBI agent Normando Anire told The Manila Times it is possible Lopez has accomplices in committing the crime and who are now also being investigated.

Bank clients alerted

NBI spokesman Ferdinand Lavin warned bank depositors and clients: We want to give a stern warning to individuals and insiders of banks to report schemes like this. We want to thank Metrobank for asking our help to maintain the highest integrity in banking business.

Garcia said Metrobank is conducting its own internal investigation to find out if Lopez operated with other collaborators or conspirators.

“It appears that Lopez can independently make decisions and she was trusted by both the bank and the client to issue and facilitate big loans,” Garcia said.

He said Lopez was caught because she had to facilitate payments of interests to fictitious accounts, based on quarterly appraisals.

“It was a consummated transaction, a qualified theft,” Garcia said.

Lopez’s profile

Lopez has a monthly salary of not less than P250,000, aside from other perks. Although she was present during the press conference, she refused to talk and covered her head with a piece of cloth.

She has been working in the bank for nearly 30 years, having become one of its most trusted employees, particularly tasked to handle big corporate clients. She is a resident of Quezon City, but a detailed address was not given.

It was reported that the client was Universal Robina but the NBI declined to confirm it.

Before the entrapment, Anire said, the bank called the corporate client and inquired if it was aware of a letter request asking to debit a manager’s check to an account. The client denied it, prompting the bank to investigate more and sought the help of the NBI.

So far, only one client is confirmed defrauded by Lopez, but authorities said it is possible she had victimized other bank clients, a possibility which is now under deeper investigation both by the bank and the NBI.

Disclosure to PSE

In a disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange, Metrobank confirmed the internal fraud but stressed that it had not affected any of its clients.

“Upon our own discovery, the Bank immediately caused the arrest of the individual involved in this case, who has been detained by the authorities since Monday,” it said without identifying the person involved.

“The Bank is reinforcing its commitment to the highest standards of integrity and upholds the protection of its customers as its main priority. No customer has been affected in this incident,” it said, but declined to further comment on the issue.

The Metrobank case follows the technical glitches at Banco de Oro (BDO) and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), which had prompted an immediate Senate investigation.

‘Isolated case’

BSP) Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. said banks have their natural internal controls precisely to prevent such financial crimes from happening.

“So we will have to look into the adequacy of those controls if, in fact, a significant crime happened within the bank,” Espenilla told reporters on Friday.

The recently installed BSP governor downplayed the incident as an “isolated” case, saying it would not have an impact on the overall perception of the Philippine banking industry.

“We are looking into it. That is a report to us. So we have to look into the circumstances and the facts around it. That’s really all that the BSP can say for now,” Espenilla said.

“These things happen. They are isolated. And banks are well capitalized that is why banks have controls so that these kinds of things can be mitigated and withstood,” he added.

The central bank chief admitted no system is perfect but Metrobank is expected to be resilient to problems like fraud.

“I have no concern that the bank cannot handle these things. This is a large bank. So I mean this is very unfortunate, but they have to deal with it,” he said.

Metrobank financial report

As of end-March 2017, Metrobank’s total assets stood at P1.58 trillion, and its total deposit liabilities at P1.23 trillion.

For the first quarter of the year, the bank reported unaudited consolidated net income of P5.6 billion, up from P5.25 billion in the corresponding period last year.

Total revenues in the quarter amounted to P19.9 billion, while operating expenses rose 6 percent to P11.1 billion.

With MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO

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