The case of the biggest cyberheist to hit the country is getting increasingly strange.
First, the central bank of impoverished Bangladesh has yet to get back part of the $81 million stolen from it in February last year despite the money having been turned over to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for safekeeping.
But last week’s resolution of the Department of Justice blows this one away. The DOJ has decided to drop charges against all other parties in the biggest money-laundering case in Philippine history, leaving a low-rank official among all the bankers and personalities involved to face trial alone.
What the DOJ is implying is that Maia Deguito, the former manager of the Jupiter branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., had most likely conspired only with herself to hack the Bangladesh central bank accounts in the United States, wire the money to the RCBC head office, order it transmitted to fictitious accounts in her branch, change the money to pesos through a local foreign exchange dealer, and eventually bring the money to local casinos for her sole benefit. All P4 billion of it.
The DOJ did not even give weight to the findings of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the agency tasked to implement the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
In Nov. 18 last year, the AMLC recommended criminal charges against six officials of RCBC aside from Deguito — former retail banking group head Raul Victor B. Tan, national sales director of the retail banking group Ismael S. Reyes, regional sales director Brigitte R. Capiña, district sales director Nestor O. Pineda, customer service head of the Jupiter branch Romualdo S. Agarrado, and senior customer relations officer at the Jupiter business center Angela Ruth S. Torres.
It cited Section 4(f) of Republic Act No. 10365 or the amended Amla, which states that money laundering is committed by any person who performs or fails to perform any act as a result of which he/she facilitates the offense of money laundering.
Earlier, or on April 28, 2016, the AMLC also filed at the DOJ a money-laundering complaint against top officials of Philrem Service Corp., the money remittance firm at the center of the controversy, namely Salud Bautista, president; Michael “Concon” Bautista, chair and treasurer; and Anthony Pelejo, anti-money laundering compliance officer. The AMLC noted that while Pelejo submitted a suspicious transaction report (STR) to the AMLC, Philrem manifested that the transactions made were on the instructions of a certain “William Go.”
But during the Senate investigation, Salud Bautista admitted that the transactions were made on the instructions of Deguito. The AMLC said it was highly irregular that Philrem would deal with Deguito and not the owner of the “Go” account.
“Philrem, acting as a remittance agent, actually commingled the funds and acted as a ‘cleaning house.’ Philrem’s role was to make it extremely difficult to trace the source and flow of the funds by avoiding all anti-money laundering measures set by laws and regulations. The participation of Philrem is really to ‘wash’ the funds and conceal the money trail,” the AMLC noted in its filing.
Casino junket operator Kim Wong, initially included in the money-laundering complaint, was earlier cleared by the DOJ following his Senate testimony and his return of nearly P700 million, which he claimed was brought in by a gaming client without informing him that it was obtained through illegal means. Why a client would admit such a thing is beyond us, though.
At the start of the Senate inquiry last year, some resource persons practically put all the blame on Deguito for the money-laundering scandal.
But as she said then, it was not as if she had the resources and authority at her mid-management level to put all the pieces in place for a P4-billion cyberheist.
Indeed, a crime of this magnitude could be possible only with the participation of other people, particularly those with authority and connections that must go beyond the country’s borders. The DOJ resolution charging only Deguito is not only strange but also absurd.
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