MANILA—Senators on Wednesday emphasized the need to immediately include the casinos in the entities covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) following the recent USD 81-million fiasco involving funds hacked from Bank of Bangladesh in the United States and entered the Philippine financial system.
The funds were later transferred to accounts of major casino players, and were reportedly used to either “buy chips” or “pay for casino losses.”
“If the casino sector remains outside of the coverage of AMLA, the Philippines risks becoming the world’s money laundering capital,” presidential candidate Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said.
Santiago said the AMLA amendment was necessary for the Philippines to keep out of the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body against money laundering and terrorist financing.
If blacklisted by the FATF, the country would suffer higher financial transaction costs and stringent cross-border measures for money transactions. At present, the Philippines remains in the FATF “grey list.”
The Congress has sought to require casinos to report to AMLC in 2012, but the proposal was opposed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., saying that the provision might drive away investors.
Senator Teofisto ‘TG’ Guingona III said the AMLA was amended in 2013 to expand its coverage by including bribery and corruption, malversation of public funds and terrorism to prevent the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) from blacklisting the Philippines.
Guingona said the Senate version include the casinos but the House contingent pushed for the removal of the casinos in the covered list of entities at the bicameral conference committee meetings.
”There was so much pressure then to exclude casinos. So now, let’s put casinos in AMLA,” Guingona said.
Frontrunning presidential candidate Grace Poe is also supporting the inclusion of the casinos in the AMLA coverage.
Senate President Franklin Drilon has said the next president must have strong political will to include casinos in the AMLA coverage.
Meanwhile, Senator Ralph Recto said the Senate needed to uncover the connection between a group of hackers and high officials of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) if it wanted to solve the USD 81-million money laundering mystery that rocked the country’s banking system.
”There is no doubt that there is a big syndicate involved here. It is also clear that the hackers have connection to the bank and we need to know who are their connections in the RCBC,” Recto said.
Recto backed the request of RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito for her to testify in an executive session of the Senate blue ribbon committee, saying “her testimony is crucial in identifying all the characters involved in the plot and in connecting the dots to unravel the mystery behind the cyberheist.”
Recto said he would ask for an executive session of the joint Committees on Blue Ribbon and on Banks and Financial Intermediaries, when hearing on the cyberheist scandal resumes at 1 p.m. on Thursday, in order to get all the leads needed in the Senainvestigation of the money laundering scam.
Recto admitted that it might be difficult to recover all the money stolen from the Bank of Bangladesh, noting that USD 66,000 was the only amount left in the Philippine bank after withdrawals from the heist plotters.
”What is important is to bust the syndicate of hackers and bankers involved in the plot and put them behind bars as part of measures to protect the country’s banking system from cybercrimes,” Recto said.
According to Recto, the grand conspiracy will be fully established if the Senate panel could follow the paper trail.