Customs, anti-money laundering body to probe influx of foreign bucks in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 2)— The Bureau of Customs is set to launch a probe with the Anti-Money Laundering Council on the huge amounts of cash brought into the country by alleged foreign syndicates.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez has ordered the two agencies to “closely coordinate” with each other in investigating the influx of foreign currencies in the past months, the department said in a statement Monday.

BOC earlier reported that in 2019, an estimated $370 million or ₱18.8 billion was brought into the country by two groups— one of which supposedly involved Chinese nationals, BOC reported.

“The BOC chief recommended to Dominguez the creation of an interagency body to keep tabs on the inflow of foreign currency into the country via the country’s ports of entry, and to recommend measures to deter the use of these funds for illegal activities,” the statement read.

The Senate is also set to conduct its own investigation on the issue, which was first brought into the limelight by Senate Blue Ribbon Committee chairman Richard Gordon. The lawmaker earlier revealed that some Chinese visitors who arrived in the Philippines from December to February brought in a total of $180 million or roughly ₱9.1 billion.

READ: Gordon wants probe on big bucks brought in by Chinese

The money has been declared for gambling and investment purposes, but Gordon raised concerns over the amount and intent of the Chinese visitors.

Magca-casino lang sila at investments. Ang nakakapagtaka, bakit malaki,” Gordon told CNN Philippines’ Balitaan.Nakikita ko rin, namimili sila ng bahay, condo(minium). Nakaka-base sila dito.”

[Translation: They said they will just gamble and use the money for investments. What’s surprising is the huge amount. I can also see some of them are living here, at condominiums. They are now based here.]

‘Billions brought into PH by POGO’

Senator Risa Hontiveros meanwhile said she and her colleagues in the upper chamber believe the huge sum of money may have been funneled into the country by Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGO) workers.

“I think sense naming lahat ng paglabag sa ating bansa ay kaladkad ito ng mga POGOs. Nagmumukha na itong invasion dahil bukod sa tax evasion at national security threat, dala-dala pa ang paglabag sa karapatan ng kababaihan at mga bata,” Hontiveros said in a chance interview with reporters.

[Translation: I think we have all sensed that this was brought in by the POGOs. This now seems like an invasion because aside from tax evasion and national security threat, there are also violations in the rights of women and children.]

RELATED: Chinese POGO workers can now order prostitutes online, Senate panel reveals

Hontiveros also renewed her call for the suspension of all POGO operations, as authorities look into the numerous issues hounding the gaming industry.

Gordon added the proliferation of POGOs should be a cause of concern, adding the government may have become “too friendly and accommodating” to the Chinese community.

Hindi naman sinasabing kaaway natin, but dapat (we’re not saying we should go against them, but instead), we must be careful of our strategic interests. It's a national security concern here, and there are economic implications,” he added.

Malacañang, for its part, said it would wait for the investigations of law enforcement authorities and the Senate.

China last week began its crackdown on its nationals working illegally for POGOs. The Senate committee on women, children, family relations, and gender equality has also begun dissecting the alleged violations committed by some Chinese nationals and POGO workers, including the supposed airport pay-off or "pastillas" scheme and online sex trafficking schemes.