The cyberheist in which $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh central bank’s deposit account in New York ended up in Philippine casino operator Solaire and its junket operators via Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. is taking too long to resolve.
Whether out of exasperation or desperation, the impoverished South Asian nation has sent a top-level delegation headed by its justice and law minister to seek the help of President Duterte and his officials in recovering what remains of the stolen funds. Specifically, it wants RCBC to shoulder the missing balance of the money stolen last February from the Bangladesh Bank. As a last resort, it has indicated its desire to file criminal and civil charges against the local bank controlled by tycoon Alfonso Yuchengco.
At a media briefing last Tuesday, Bangladeshi Minister of Law Anisul Huq stated his delegation’s mission: “It is clearly established that RCBC was very much involved in the scam and they have admitted their liability. There remains $66 million (about P3.28 billion at current exchange rates) and we have come here to recover that.”
But RCBC was quick to counteract: It shifted the blame for the money-laundering scandal to the party from which the funds were stolen—Bangladesh Bank. It said the negligence of that country’s central bank was the immediate cause of the crime. RCBC’s external counsel, Thea Daep, even argued that it was not liable to pay Bangladesh Bank for the theft of the funds deposited at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
“RCBC is not the proximate cause of the theft. They have no case against us,” Daep said, adding that it was Bangladesh Bank that was negligent.
“We therefore urge Bangladesh Bank to be transparent to the Philippine government, which has done so much to help them, and show us who really stole from them,” she said.
We cannot see how RCBC can escape liability in this mess. Wasn’t its culpability clear early on to the Senate, the Anti-Money Laundering Council and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas?
We do not know where RCBC’s external counsel is coming from, but an inquiry by the Senate and an investigation by the BSP and the AMLC found that the local bank had committed serious lapses by allowing hackers to hide the stolen funds in fictitious accounts in its branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City. RCBC also allowed the money to be withdrawn despite receiving stop orders from the Bangladesh Bank, according to Senate records.
Last Nov. 18, the AMLC charged Raul Tan, former treasurer of RCBC, and five other officers and employees of the local bank (national sales director Ismael Reyes, regional sales director Brigitte Capina, district sales director Nestor Pineda, customer service head Romualdo Agarrado and senior customer relations officer Angela Ruth Torres) with violating Republic Act No. 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2001.
The AMLC filed money laundering charges against RCBC Jupiter branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito and the four fictitious account holders as early as March 15, and against casino junket operators and agents Kim Wong and Weikang Xu on March 22.
Besides, during one Senate hearing last April on the money-laundering scandal, then RCBC president Lorenzo Tan made this promise: “If we are found liable, yes, I will recommend to the board that we set aside a certain sum of money to give back.”
A BSP inquiry ended with the monetary authority slapping RCBC with an unprecedented fine of P1 billion for its involvement, or lapses, in the $81-million cyberheist.
On that premise alone, as Huq pointed out during the media briefing, RCBC should give the money back to Bangladesh. Huq also said he expected RCBC to accept the entire liability. His simple reason: “The money came in through RCBC. We do not need to know what happened to the money later on.” That sounds clear enough.
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