Justice department files money laundering raps vs 5 RCBC officials

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 22) — The Department of Justice has filed money laundering charges against five officers of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) for their alleged involvement in the $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist three years ago.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters on Wednesday that a case has been filed against former RCBC treasurer Raul Victor Tan, national sales director Ismael Reyes, regional sales director Brigitte Capiña, customer service head for Jupiter business center Romualdo Agarrado, and senior customer relationship officer for Jupiter business center Angela Ruth Torres. All five are or were part of RCBC's Retail Banking Group.

This comes after the investigating prosecutor denied their appeal as authorities found ample grounds to charge them for violating the Anti-Money Laundering Act.

"As defined, 'willful blindness' is the deliberate avoidance or knowledge of a crime, especially by failing to make a reasonable inquiry about suspected wrongdoing, despite being aware that it is highly probable. There is no better way to describe the acts of respondents Tan, Capiña, Reyes, Agarrado, and Torres than this," the 10-page resolution read. "Their complacent attitude in handling the suspicious remittances is unacceptable, and rocked the integrity of our banking system."

The case has been filed with the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 141, Perete said.

In January, the Makati RTC branch 149 found RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito guilty of money laundering.

Deguito cleared and processed the money stolen by unknown hackers from the Bangladesh government which were wired to four bogus accounts at the bank's branch along Jupiter Street, Makati on Feb. 5, 2016. The $81-million deposits were later withdrawn, converted into pesos, then gambled in a number of casinos in the Philippines where it was left untraced.

READ: Casinos now covered by anti-money laundering act under new law

Deguito was sentenced to 4-7 years in jail for each of the eight counts of money laundering and was ordered to pay $103 million.

Now, Perete said prosecutors discovered that the five other bank officials also had roles to play in ushering in the stolen funds from the Bangladesh central bank's account in New York to the Philippines through RCBC.

Of the amount, only $15 million has been recovered and returned to Dhaka so far.

"The five were found instrumental in the lifting of the temporary hold on the four beneficiary accounts of the international inward remittances of funds allegedly wrongfully taken from the Bangladesh Bank, and the withdrawal of such funds, among other acts," Perete said.

"These acts were found to have been made even after notice of the irregularity in the transaction from the Bangladesh Bank," he added.

Meanwhile, the state prosecutor granted the appeal filed by RCBC district sales director Nestor Pineda after discovering that Deguito bypassed him and went straight to Capiña and Tan for the release of the stolen funds, despite receiving recall orders from abroad.

Bangladesh lodged a criminal case against RCBC before a New York court on Jan. 31 of this year. In March, RCBC retaliated with a defamation case against the foreign central bank for making "baseless allegations" that supposedly tarnished reputation of the Yuchengco-owned lender.

In a statement, RCBC said they expect the charges against their five employees to be dropped eventually.

"We are confident that they will be vindicated since our investigation, conducted by independent third parties, concluded they had no knowledge about the alleged money laundering activity at all. We expect the complaint to be dismissed consequently," according to RCBC legal counsel Thea Daep.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.