Law firm confirms working with Wirecard to open PH unit, says BPI account under treasurer's name real

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This BPI bank certificate is real, according to the Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose (CLTPSJ) law office.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 1) – The Bank of the Philippine Islands account opened to set up a Wirecard unit in the Philippines is real, a law firm said Wednesday, adding that a ₱100-million deposit came from the German firm three years ago. 

The Castillo Laman Tan Pantaleon & San Jose (CLTPSJ) law firm sent a fact sheet to CNN Philippines to confirm a report about the involvement of its associate Andre Ria Buzeta as treasurer-in-trust of Wirecard e-Money Philippines, Inc. when it was being set up in late 2016.

The law firm said the embattled German e-payments company is their client, but is "not a very active" one.

CLTPSJ lawyers said they were only involved in Wirecard's move to put up a subsidiary in Manila to assist in the incorporation and registration of the local unit with Philippine regulators. For this, a treasurer-in-trust-for or TITF account was opened under BPI, officially named as "Andre Ria B. Buzeta TITF Wirecard e-Money Philippines, Inc."

"We know for a fact that the BPI certification is not a fake because we ourselves opened the TITF account, and we observed the flow of funds in and out of that account until the account was closed," the law firm said in the statement to refute an earlier claim of BPI President and Chief Executive Officer Cezar Consing questioning the authenticity of the document.

In an interview with CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on Wednesday night, Atty. Mel Macaraig of CLTPSJ clarified that Buzeta is no longer connected with the law firm.

“She left I think late 2017 or early 2018,” he said.

Macaraig also echoed the law firm's earlier statement that the BPI certificate is not fake.

He stressed that there were no disagreements between their law firm and Consing because the BPI president did not categorically conclude that such document was fake.

“To leave the impression that our firm is using fake documents which as you will appreciate is simply something we cannot accept,” Macaraig said.

Consing told CNN Philippines in an interview last week that there were "elements in the certificate that look fake," stressing that BPI never had a relationship with Wirecard.

RELATED: PH banks deny holding missing $2.1B cash of German firm Wirecard

CLTPSJ, however, said that the bank certificate was issued by the branch manager of BPI's Salcedo Tordesillas branch, where the firm has been doing most of its fund transactions since 1981.

The bank certificate remains part of Wirecard e-Money’s files kept by the corporate regulator to this day.

The law firm added that "Wirecard inwardly remitted funds that were converted into a little over ₱100 million" which was deposited in that account to meet the paid-up capital or show money required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for an e-money business.

Wirecard e-Money was eventually registered with the SEC in March 2017. CLTPSJ said that its other lawyers acted as incorporators of the company only until end-2017, when they were removed from the board and relieved as corporate secretary of the company.

Germany-based Wirecard Acquiring & Issuing GmbH holds 99.99 percent of the shares of its local unit. Its stockholders on record as of 2019 were Wirecard AG, a Singaporean named Jeffry Ho as company president, an Indian national, and three Filipinos, according to SEC records.

The law firm, however, agreed with Consing's remarks that the TITF account was not converted into a corporate account for Wirecard e-Money Philippines so it "never became an account in Wirecard’s name." The lawyers added that the account was closed a year later on March 27, 2018, and the money was transferred to another account of the local Wirecard unit under another bank.

Macaraig said there were no transactions made on the account, which was opened in March 2017.

“The account was a treasure and trust account," he explained. "It was intended that once the company is incorporated, it will eventually be closed or what they call regularized and convert… transferred over to an account in the name of the company being Wirecard E-Money Philippines Inc."

Macaraig declined to name the bank where the new account was opened after March 27, 2018, saying he will check on their records as they have nothing to do with the new bank account.

“We have opened an account in normal course of business," Macaraig said. "It was TITF account, it remained a TITF account. Therefore, Mr. Consing’s statement that the account was always an individual account and never a Wirecard account holds true as the statement that Wirecard was never a client of BPI."

CLTPSJ lawyers clarified that it had no role in the current scandal involving a $2.1-billion hole in the financial statements of Wirecard, whose former top executive Markus Braun is now facing charges for accounting fraud.

"To reiterate, all our services to this client have been above board and are perfectly legal, and we have the documents to prove it. We did not participate in any way in any of the irregular acts alleged to have been done by Wirecard, in connection with the scandal," the law firm said, noting news reports that other Filipino lawyers have also worked with the German company.

Filipino lawyer and former Transportation Assistant Secretary Mark Tolentino has been invited for a probe by the National Bureau of Investigation.

The accounting fraud was allegedly designed to make Wirecard’s balance sheet more appealing to investors by showing it had brisk revenues, partly from its operations in Asia. The company's stock price collapsed by nearly 90 percent following the exposé, forcing Wirecard to file for insolvency before a court in Munich.

RELATED: Wirecard says missing $2 billion never existed. Its stock is down 85% in 3 days