Bangladesh Bank may have to wait longer before it gets the amount turned over by casino junket operator Kim Wong to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) of the Philippines for safekeeping, although the court has already asked authorities to preserve the money.
It will take several more procedures before the money is turned over to Bangladeshi authorities, as executive Judge Reynaldo A. Alhambra of the Manila Regional Trial Court set on May 2 at 8:30 a.m. a summary hearing on the asset preservation.
Holding a hearing meant this is an important case, as it has diplomatic repercussions.
The AMLC filed on April 18 a petition for civil forfeiture (with an urgent prayer for the issuance of a provisional asset preservation order and/or asset preservation order through the Office of the Solicitor General) against Kam Sin Wong, East Hawaii Leisure Co., Centurytext Trading, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) and Philippine National Bank (PNB).
In an order issued also on April 18, Alhambra said the AMLC alleged that the “subject money instruments and proceeds in the name of Kam Sin Wong or Kim Wong, Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. Ltd. and Centurytex Trading with the respondent banks are related to an unlawful activity of “hacking or cracking” under the E-Commerce Act, a predicate offense under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
As there was “imminent certainty” that the money would be removed, transferred, concealed, disposed of and placed beyond the reach of the law, as well as in light of the earlier AMLC freeze order, the court said it warranted the issuance of a provisional asset preservation order.
The provisional order was hence issued, forbidding any transaction, withdrawal, transfer, removal, conversion, concealment or other disposition of the following monetary instruments and proceeds effective a 20-day period:
The frozen accounts worth P4,461,945.53 in PNB under Kim Wong’s account name.
P5,741,276.84 in PNB under the account of Eastern Hawaii Leisure.
P19,983.63 in RCBC under Centurytex Trading.
The order also covered the first two tranches of money now in the custody of the AMLC. On March 31, Kim Wong’s lawyers returned an initial $4.63 million, and on April 4, P38.28 million.
On Monday, his company, Eastern Hawaii Leisure, turned over another P200 million to the AMLC.
Wong is expected to turn over another P250 million.
Wong had received a portion of the $81 million that entered the Philippines through RCBC and was transferred to the accounts of junket operators.
But he named two others—Gao Shuhua and Ding Zhize—as the ones who had knowledge of the entry of $81 million into the country.
Solaire Resort and Casino Manila, which got part of the $81 million, also froze the account of the “Ding Group” worth P107 million, and confiscated another P1.347 million from the rooms of the group’s players.
Solaire is waiting for a court order to dispose of the money.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto wished the Philippines could return to Bangladesh the bulk of the $81 million that hackers stole from its central bank before a new administration takes over.
President Aquino is stepping down on June 30.
“That should be our national deadline. Before President Aquino returns to private life, we must see to it that all the recoverable money from that heist has been returned to its rightful owner,” Recto said in a statement.
According to him, it would not look good if the return of the money to Bangladesh would take longer than the counting and canvassing of some 54 million votes and the inauguration of a new President.
Before the government could turn over the recovered funds to Bangladesh, the AMLC would have to file a civil forfeiture case and secure a court order.
The Bangladesh government would also have to formally intervene in the case and claim ownership of the money so that the court could order the return of the funds to it. Otherwise, the funds would be declared property of the Republic of the Philippines.
But finance officials are not expecting a long-winded court case given that Wong voluntarily turned over the money and nobody is expected to object to its return to Bangladesh.
Recto said it would be okay if all of the recovered funds could not be returned to Bangladesh by June 30, so long as a substantial amount would have been given back to the South Asian country by then.
“If we would return the funds by installment, the first downpayment should be a huge amount,” he said.
Copyright: Philippine Daily Inquirer/ Asia News Network