2 Chinese businessmen identified as masterminds of $81M transfer
TWO Chinese businessmen masterminded the transfer of the $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Bank to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), according to casino junket operator Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong.
In his testimony at the Senate on Tuesday, Wong claimed that the two traders — Shuhua Gao and Zhize Ding — got help from Maia Santos-Deguito, the former bank manager of RCBC Jupiter Branch in Makati City (Metro Manila) and remittance firm PhilRem.
At the resumption of the Senate blue ribbon hearing on the multimillion-dollar money laundering scandal, Wong denied any involvement in the opening of the four fictitious accounts where the stolen money was deposited as claimed by Deguito in her previous testimony.
Deguito, when she appeared before senators last week, claimed that it was Wong who instructed her to open dollar accounts for Michael Cruz, Jessie Lagrosas, Alfred Vergara, Enrico Vasquez and businessman William So Go.
Wong admitted knowing Deguito but only because of her persistence in convincing him to open an account in her branch every time they bump into each other.
He said he remembered Deguito’s offer when Gao told him that he is interested in opening a dollar account in the Philippines.
Gao, according to Wong, is a junket operator from Beijing and has been in and out of the country for more than eight years.
He said he had known Gao since 2007 and that the latter owed him P450 million.
Wong added that Gao also told him that he and his partner are planning to invest in a casino business in the Philippines because they are having a difficult time maintaining their business in Macau.
He introduced Gao to Deguito at his office inside Midas Hotel and Casino sometime in May 2015 to discuss the process of opening a dollar account.
According to Wong, he heard Deguito telling Gao that he needed five persons if he wants to open a company account.
She assured Gao that she will take care of everything and she will just need $2,500 as initial deposit for the five accounts.
On February 4, 2016, Wong said, Gao introduced him to his partner Ding. He was told that a huge amount of money will be transmitted to the Philippines through the bank accounts that Gao earlier opened.
The next day, Wong said he met Gao and Ding inside Solaire Resorts and Casino, where he was told that the funds will be arriving that day.
According to him, he called Deguito several times to inquire about the money.
It was around 1 p.m. on that same day when the bank manager informed him that $6 million has been transmitted to the branch.
The money continued to arrive until it reached $81 million.
He then asked Deguito if she could bring a portion of the deposits in cash to Solaire to which she agreed.
Wong said he was informed by Solaire that Philrem transmitted some of the funds for the junket players at 6:30 p.m.
Then around 7 p.m., Michael Bautista of Philrem arrived at Solaire and handed him P80 million upon the instruction of Deguito.
Wong said it was already past 8 p.m. when Deguito arrived at Solaire to deliver another P20 million cash.
The junket operator even showed a photo of Deguito’s vehicle inside the parking lot of the casino on February 5.
Wong said that apart from the P100 million cash he got on February 5, he also collected P300 million and $5 million cash from Bautista from February 10 to 14.
“Si Maia ang nagpeke ng sinasabing limang bank accounts. Si Maia ang gumawa ng lahat ng paraan para mailabas ang pera sa banko [It was Maia who created the five fictitious bank accounts. It was Maia who released the money from the bank],” he added.
Wong cleared RCBC president Lorenzo Tan of any involvement in the controversy, dismissing Deguito’s allegations that the RCBC head knew of the transaction.
He said there was never an instance when Tan asked Deguito to take care of him.
Deguito had told senators that it was the RCBC president who instructed her during a birthday party of a common friend, to “take care” of Wong.
“Impossible … that never happened,” Wong told the blue ribbon committee.
Francis Lim, Tan’s counsel, said Wong’s statement proves Deguito’s attempt to muddle the issue by implicating her boss.
He added that Deguito is trying to put the blame on Tan and “obscure her role as a principal player.”
“It vindicates our position that Ms. Deguito has maliciously dragged Mr. Tan into the fray in a shrewd design to muddle the issues before the Senate and confuse the public to obscure her role as a principal player in this money-laundering scheme,” Lim noted.
Of the $81 million that entered RCBC last month, $63 million was transferred to Midas and Solaire while the remaining $17 million, according to Wong, is still with Philrem.
But Philrem officials disputed his claim.
Wong said the funds received by the casinos were converted into dead chips to be used by the junket players.
Dead chips cannot be exchanged for cash.
So far, only P40 million of the P550 million that entered Midas remains.
Deguito was not able to attend the hearing on Tuesday because of health problems.
Former senator Rene Saguisag, co-counsel for Deguito, asked the Senate panel for a weeklong respite.
He assured the senators that the bank manager will continue cooperating with the lawmakers.
Saguisag himself asked that he be excused early because he was just released from the hospital.
The former senator was asked by Deguito’s camp over the weekend to act as co-counsel and consultant because Ferdinand Topacio was not able to attend the proceedings.