Senate unable to trace $17M; envoy points to Philrem

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THE Senate blue ribbon committee still can’t exactly pinpoint where the missing $17 million of the $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Bank went even after five days of hearings on the cyber heist involving international and local banks.

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What has only been clear, according to committee chairman Sen. Teofisto Guingona 3rd, is that Philrem, the remittance company that handled the delivery and conversion of the stolen fund, is not telling the truth about the missing $17 million.

Several instances during the hearings, Guingona said on Wednesday, indicate that Philrem is hiding something and that the that the credibility of its owners–Salud and Michael Bautista–is running low because of inconsistencies in their testimonies.

Casino junket operator Kam Sin “Kim” Wong had told the Senate panel that of the funds that entered the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Jupiter Branch in Makati City (Metro Manila), about $63 million went to Solaire and Midas casinos, while the remaining $17 million is still with Philrem.

The Bautistas repeatedly denied Wong’s claims and insisted that they remitted everything to the casinos and another junket operator, Wei Kang Xu.

Their narration on how they dispatched the money, however, were filled with inconsistencies according to Guingona.

During the first hearing, he said, Salud Bautista claimed that she delivered everything personally to Xu at Solaire casino and she never mentioned Wong’s name to senators.

But in succeeding proceedings, the Bautistas changed their testimony and said there were times when Xu picked up the money at their house.

“Salud even said that she knew Wong but she never transacted with him, but it turned out that Wong was present during the cash deliveries and pick-up, so clearly there are inconsistencies and that to me is indication that they are involved in this scandal,” Guingona said.

He, however, admitted that he still can’t say if the missing $17 million is still with Philrem.
But even if the missing fund is still with Philrem and the remittance firm agreed to turn it over, the move will not absolve the firm from criminal liability.

“It will be a mitigating factor, it could lessen the penalty but they [Philrem] will not be absolved,” Guingona said in a radio interview aired over dzMM.

Still with Philrem
Bangladesh Ambassador to Manila John Gomes is convinced that the missing fund is still with Philrem based on the testimonies given by Wong during the hearings.

“We heard that they [Philrem] have the $17 million, according to Kim Wong’s statement and Kim Wong is not retracting that statement. We take it seriously that the $17 million is still with them,” Gomes said in an interview after the hearing on Tuesday.

The ambassador dismissed rumors that Philrem has offered to return the money directly to them, saying he has never talked with the Bautistas and their lawyers outside the Senate.

What they know, according to Gomes, is that the $4.6 million and P38 million from Wong are already with the Philippine government.

Manwhile, he said, the P107 million from Solaire and the P450 million from Wong would also be turned over to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

“It has come out in the Senate that the $17 million is still with them [Philrem] and it is our expectation that they will also return that amount,” Gomes added.

He said that they will not allow any attempt to directly return the money to them without passing through the proper system.

“They cannot return the money to Bangladesh because the system doesn’t say so. It has to come though the AMLC and, whatever you are hearing, I don’t think it is proper because we cannot take money,” he said.

Gomes added that they have rejected an earlier offer of Philrem to return the P10 million as compensation because it has to go through the process, which includes AMLC.

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