$17M missing, says Kim Wong
Kim Wong, the star witness in Tuesday’s Senate hearing, revealed that about a quarter of the $81 million stolen from Bangladesh Bank remained unaccounted for, a portion of which is possibly still being held by local money changer Philrem, which denied the allegation.
Wong revealed that he was holding a further P40 million of the funds in question in the accounts of his Midas Hotel junket operation, and was prepared to turn this over to the authorities, on top of the $4.6 million in junket funds he also held from the same set of transaction.
The junket operator further disclosed that the trail of transactions left a balance of $17 million that was unaccounted for—an amount he believed was still with Philrem. But Philrem officials denied this, saying all the funds that were coursed to them for conversion from dollars into pesos were delivered to their intended beneficiaries.
Including this missing $17 million, the amount that potentially remains within the country—and could still be recovered and returned to the Bangladeshi government—is slightly more than $20 million, or about one-fourth of the funds stolen.
“You all know each other, one way or the other,” said Sen. Ralph Recto, expressing incredulity at the testimonies of the personalities who have been linked, rightly or wrongly, to the $81-million money-laundering scandal—the largest deal involving the traffic of so-called “dirty money” in the Philippines to date.
“Lahat kayo magkakilala,” he said at the resumption of the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing, while questioning officials of money changer Philrem Services Corp. about the flow of funds through the local financial system.
Wong had said that he knew Lorenzo Tan, president and CEO of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), as well as Chinese-Filipino businessman William So Go. The three are bound by a love of high-end cars through a dealership owned by businessman Jason Go, where Wong said he first met RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito.
Also known to these persons are Michael and Salud Bautista who own Philrem, through which the laundered funds were converted into pesos.
“And I don’t expect any of you to say that ‘we knew this [money] would come from an unlawful activity’ or that ‘we knew this would come from a heist job or from a cybercrime or a hacking,’” Recto added, explaining that he expected all parties at the Senate probe to deny any form of culpability.
“I don’t expect you to say that, but the facts are the facts,” he added, narrating the trail of persons involved in the chain that began when the funds were wired to the Philippines on Feb. 5, until it was sent to casinos one week later.
“[Chinese junket agent] Gao [Shuhua] was introduced [by casino junket operator Kim Wong to RCBC branch manager Deguito] to open an account,” the senator said. “Accounts were opened. Money came in. Money went to Mr. [William] Go (referring to bank accounts which were allegedly opened in his name illegally), went to Philrem, was exchanged with RCBC, remitted to Mr. Wong, remitted to casinos, there’s a portion not in the casinos.”
In revealing that as much as one-fourth of the funds stolen from Bangladesh Bank may still be in the Philippines, outside the banking system and beyond the reach of the Anti-Money Laundering Council, Wong suggested that it may not be beyond the power of casino industry players to freeze.
In fact, Wong and Solaire Resort and Casino chief legal counsel Silverio Benny Tan made parallel revelations that Solaire took the initiative of seizing an estimated P107 million of these suspected laundered funds from the accounts of its clients once it learned of the money’s dubious provenance.
Solaire security entered several hotel rooms and “arrested” an unspecified number of its clientele—all Chinese nationals—and recovered an equivalent of P1.3 million worth of cash, denominated in various foreign currencies.
Since Solaire had no authority to detain these clients, they were released and subsequently left the country earlier this month.
“We are committed to hold this and comply with any court order would apply to this funds,” Benny Tan said, adding that the move to seize the suspected funds was an “internal decision” made by Solaire.
The revelation earned Solaire and its official praise from the lawmakers who contrasted its swift action on the funds with the relatively slower moves of the AMLC which netted for the anti-money laundering watchdog only $68,000 in frozen funds.
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