At least 5 syndicates behind illicit entry of dirty money into PH, Gordon says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines. March 5) — More syndicates have been found to be sneaking in foreign currencies into the country as the government looks into groups, money changers and personalities involved in dirty money smuggling.

Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Richard Gordon in a Senate hearing on Thursday disclosed that $633 million, equivalent to around ₱32 billion, in cash have entered the country in 890 transactions from September 2019 to March this year.

Gordon expressed fears that the huge amounts of dirty money smuggled into the country could be used for illicit and even political activities, including paying members of the police and military and government officials to serve as protectors of their transactions, among other possibilities.

In the last five days of this week alone, cash amounting to around $6 million, or ₱310.16 million, were sneaked in from Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore, Gordon said.

A January report from the Bureau of Customs said two syndicates – a so-called "Rodriguez Group" and "Chinese Group" have been identified to have brought in $370 million, or around ₱18.74 billion, last year.

But Gordon said more syndicates are behind the scheme.

"Ang lumalabas dito, na kasama ay talagang may mga sindikato (It turns out that syndicates are really involved)," Gordon said.

"Ngayon ang alam namin, ay umaabot na yata ng lima or anim na ang sindikato (What we know now is there are 5 to 6 syndicates involved)," he added.

Gordon named several members of the Rodriguez clan who brought in millions in US and Hong Kong dollars and Japanese yen from Hong Kong and Singapore. At least seven members of the family have been subpoenaed, Gordon said, adding that they should attend the next hearing on March 12 or they will be arrested.

"In our next hearing it is our hope that we can get them to explain," he said.

He also suggested placing them under an Immigration watch list so authorities will be notified if ever they try to leave the country.

Arrests made

For its part, the Anti-Money Laundering Council has recorded the entry of $336 million last year.

Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero said intelligence information from AMLC served as basis for a September 2019 operation that led to the arrest of a certain Mohamad Chang who misdeclared the foreign currencies he brought into the country. Another suspect, Simon Rodriguez was also apprehended based on an October 2019 letter from Customs, Gordon said.

The lawmaker inquired why the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas launched its own probe only in February – three months after Customs' letter. Deputy Governor Chuchi Fonacier said they got the referral letter from AMLC only in January.

The AMLC explained that they receive reports from Customs 10 days after the end of every month. Gordon said "this is bureaucracy in its worst form."

"You will meet one month and 10 days after your intelligence transpires. Huling huli na. Nagastos na yung pera (It's too late. The money has been spent)," he said.

The BSP is investigating two money service businesses for their "suspicious transactions" which went beyond the value of transactions authorized by the government. Fonacier did not go into detail but money service businesses include money changers, remittance centers, and pawnshops.

Gordon mentioned that another money changer should be looked into for having an office in Marawi City – the war-torn capital of Lanao del Sur which served as battle ground of government troops and local and foreign terrorists in 2017.