20m pesos loaded into RCBC manager's car
Twenty million pesos believed to be part of the $81million funds stolen from Bangladesh Bank was allegedly loaded onto the vehicle of the branch manager of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, a witness told a Senate hearing in the Philippines yesterday.
Romualdo Agarrado, former customer service head of the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City, made the disclosure when he testified at the closed-door Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on the alleged money-laundering scheme that slipped through the Philippine financial system, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which broke the news on February 29.
Maia Santos-Deguito, branch manager of the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City, has been at the centre of the money-laundering scheme since the incident was revealed.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that at least two other senior executives of RCBC may have been involved in the transfer of $81 million stolen from Bangladesh's foreign reserves, according to the Philippine senator investigating the case.
Senator Teofisto Guingona made the allegation after the closed-door hearing with Maia Santos Deguito. Deguito's testimony indicated that more prominent bank officials may have participated, Guingona told reporters after the hearing yesterday.
It appears Deguito acted in error “but there are bigger persons behind this whole thing," Guingona said. “Things are slowly unfolding and there are new names coming out. It's getting deeper and both sides are firing missiles at each other. We have to make sure we get to the bottom of this.”
The Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations of the Senate of the Philippines is popularly known as the Blue Ribbon Committee. It is tasked with investigating alleged wrongdoings of the government, its officials, and its attached agencies, including government owned and controlled corporations, in aid of legislation, that is, the primary purpose is the suggestion of new laws, or proposals of amendments to existing laws.
According to the Inquirer, Agarrado said he personally saw the 20 million peso ($430,000) cash placed in a paper bag being loaded to the car of Deguito on February 5 when the inward remittance in the name of businessman William Go came in.
In the afternoon of February 5, the branch's assistant manager, Angela Torres, requested 20 million pesos from the cash centre, he said.
“Then around 5:30 in the afternoon, the armour car arrived from the cash centre ... That was P20 million requested from the cash centre,” he said.
Agarrado said Torres and he immediately transferred the money to the teller.
“Between 6:30pm and 6:45pm, the teller placed the money in a box, counted it and put the cash in branch manager Maia Deguito's room. That time BM Maia was outside the branch, I think she was talking to somebody on the cell phone,” he said.
He said Jovy Morales, the bank messenger, then transferred the money from the box to a paper bag before loading it to Deguito's vehicle with the help of Torres.
“Jovy Morales loaded [the money] to the vehicle of manager Maia Deguito. Morales was the one who loaded it and was assisted by Angela Torres.”
Agarrado said: “I could clearly see it because I was sitting on the table fronting the main door of the branch. It was made of glass so it could be clearly seen outside, even though it was 6:30 or quarter to 7:00pm already, the lighting was clear inside the branch.”
“I saw it personally,” he said.
Senators held the closed-door meeting yesterday to hear the testimony of Deguito, after she requested to hear her statement in an executive session, citing the case that has already been filed against her in connection with her alleged involvement in the scheme.
Bangladesh has recovered $20 million of the $101 million that went electronically out of the BB's account with the New York Fed on February 4, and is desperately working to get back the rest as the issue has shaken the country's financial system.
But Senator Sergio Osmeña III said Wednesday that there is a “very low” chance that the Filipino government would be able to retrieve the $81 million because the money is now likely outside the country.
Osmeña said tracking the money would depend on the cooperation of casinos.
The stolen money found its way into casinos after being withdrawn from the RCBC branch.
The pacific nation's increasingly flush casino industry is exempt from the anti-money laundering law, meaning they are not required to report suspicious transactions, reported the Bloomberg news.
“They [perpetrators] picked us to launder this money because our system is full of loopholes,” said Osmeña. "We have been trying to amend these laws for decades, but we can't get it through congress.”
Lawmakers in the Philippines questioned employees of local banks that had processed the transfers. They expressed frustration during that hearing at bank employees who declined to answer questions and cited their rights against self-incrimination, said the Bloomberg report.
Several United States diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks also showed frustration with the laws.
“The bank secrecy laws in the Philippines are among the strictest in the world,” Francis J Ricciardone, the then United States ambassador, wrote in a 2005 cable, according to the Bloomberg article.
A successor, Kristie Kenney, said in a 2008 cable that the bank secrecy laws and poor whistle-blower protections hindered corruption and graft investigations.
Money from the BB ended up being transferred to one of the Philippines' newer casinos -- Solaire.
The operators of the casinos involved were due to testify at the Senate hearing yesterday.
“The casinos here in the Philippines are a black hole,” Osmeña said. “Once the money goes in there, it is gone.”