UNLESS the Philippines unmasks the people behind the transfer of dirty money to a local bank, international hackers may make the country their playground and undermine the banking industry, senators warned on Wednesday.
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said the Senate should uncover the connection between a group of hackers and officials of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) if it were to solve the $81-million money laundering mystery.
What is important, he added, is to bust the syndicate of hackers and bankers involved in the plot and put them behind bars as part of measures to protect the country’s banking system from cyber crimes.
Recto believes that the conspiracy between banks will be fully established if the Senate could follow the paper trail on the entry of money stolen from the Bangladesh central bank.
The Senate blue ribbon committee will resume its investigation of the matter today.
Senator Teofisto Guingona 3rd, chairman of the committee, said the incident is “very concerning” because unless the Philippine government will be able to show that it is serious in its fight against money laundering, the country may be blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) when it reviews the country’s policies.
To avoid getting blacklisted, the government pushed for the amendment the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001 and passed several measures to strengthen Republic Act 10365, which expands a list of entities required to report financial transactions to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
The list includes pre-need companies, money changers, real estate agents and dealers in precious stones and metal.
The amendment did not include casinos, however.
Guingona said the committee found two “inadequacies” in its first hearing — the system being implement by RCBC and the non-inclusion of casinos in the list of covered institutions of AMLA.
“It’s hard to believe that there was no human error in $81-million transaction because it is obvious that it was premeditated. The fact that the accounts did not have any movement for about a year and then suddenly [$20 million, $30M] goes in,that is really a sign that there is a plan and that not one person can do this,” he noted in an interview.
The Bangladesh Bank claimed that hackers stole money from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The money was wired to four RCBC accounts under the names of Enrico Vasquez, Alfred Vergara, Michael Cruz and Jessie Christopher Lagrosas.
The money was withdrawn and deposited in the bank account of businessman William So Go and was later transferred through Philrem, a remittance company, to Solaire, Weikang Xu and Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co.
On Tuesday, bank officials refused to answer questions.
Maia Santos-Deguito, the bank manager of RCBC Jupiter Branch where the four accounts were opened, requested an executive session but it was denied.
Recto said Deguito should be allowed to talk behind closed doors because “her testimony is crucial in identifying all the characters involved in the plot and in connecting the dots to unravel the mystery behind the cyber heist.”
A complaint has been filed against Deguito at the Justice department.
Recto said the blue ribbon panel should find out who are the hackers’ contacts in RCBC and how they were able to transfer such a huge sum of money in such a short time.
“Unless these questions are answered and the loopholes in money laundering are plugged, international hackers may consider the Philippines as a playground for cyber crimes,” Recto warned.