PH gets nod of int'l watchdog on money laundering

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 10) — An international watchdog against dirty money removed the Philippines from the list of countries it is closely monitoring, after President Rodrigo Duterte amended the Anti-Money Laundering Act to cover casinos.

The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), composed of 41 member countries and supported by the World Bank, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and other international organizations, said the Philippines exited its "transitional mutual evaluation follow-up."

"During the annual meeting, the Philippine delegation reported to APG membership that the casino bill has been signed into law by the President. As such, the Philippines has been taken out from APG membership action," the country's Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) also recently announced on its website.

As founding member of the APG since 1997, the Philippines has committed to follow standards set by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, an intergovernmental body that seeks to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

It has also agreed to enter a mutual peer review system or "mutual evaluation."

The APG said the country has made significant progress in implementing international standards against money laundering.

Representatives from the AMLC, Securities and Exchange Commission, Insurance Commission and Office of the Ombudsman attended the 20th annual meeting of the APG in Colombo, Sri Lanka last July 17-21.

Aside from the Philippines, Afghanistan, Brunei Darussalam, Nepal, Pakistan, Chinese Taipei and Vietnam, also escaped APG action.

The APG in September 2016 gave the Philippines until June 2017 to pass an anti-money laundering legislation covering casino operations, said Senator Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banks, Financial Institutions and Currencies.

Duterte signed RA 10297 on July 14, which imposes sanctions on casinos if AMLC finds them involved in unlawful activity. "The Court of Appeals may issue a freeze order which shall be effective immediately, for a period of 20 days," the law states.

Escudero in a press release on July 19 said the country also faced "potential blacklisting" by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. He hoped the country's new law would be enough for it to avoid sanctions.

The country only "barely escaped" the task force's blacklist after hackers stole $81 million from the Bangladesh Central Bank account in February 2016, he said. Senate hearings have revealed that the money was deposited to bank accounts in the Philippines before being funneled into casinos.

If blacklisted, the country would be put under stringent financial monitoring, and remittances from overseas Filipino workers would be affected, Escudero said.