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RCBC heaps blame on Bangladesh, bank manager for laundering fiasco

By: - Reporter / @daxinq
/ 09:22 PM April 12, 2016
MONEY BACK Testifying at the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee on Tuesday, casino junket operator Kim Wong (left) says he will return $4.6 million, part of the $81 million hackers stole from the Bangladesh central bank and wired to  Philippine bank accounts. Watching the hearing from the gallery is Bangladesh Ambassador Maj. Gen. John Gomes. LYN RILLON

Officials from the Bangladeshi embassy attend a Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the $81-million money laundering that started with the cyber-heist at the Bangladesh central bank’s account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The money eventually found its way into several accounts opened at the Rizal Commerial Banking Corp. (RCBC).  At left is casino junket operator Kim Wong who has returned $4.6 million.  Watching the hearing from the gallery is Bangladesh Ambassador Maj. Gen. John Gomes. LYN RILLON

MANILA — “Please be informed that this is a doubtful transaction. You are requested to stop the payment, and if you already made payment, then freeze the account of the beneficiary for proper investigation. We think the transaction is contradictory with the anti-money laundering law.”

Thus read three messages sent by the Bangladeshi central bank to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. in the morning of Feb. 9, 2016 alerting the Yuchengco-controlled financial institution to the dubious provenance of the $81 million that was later revealed to be the largest money laundering caper in Philippine history.

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The following day, Feb. 10, the Bangladesh Bank sent another message to RCBC through the Swift system which read: “Top urgent. Please be informed that this is a fraudulent transaction and unauthorized access in our Swift system. So you are requested to stop the payment and if you have already made the payment, then freeze the account of beneficiary and please back the funds to the account number 21083190.”

Speaking at the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on Tuesday, RCBC legal chief Ma. Celia Fernandez-Estavillo said the Swift transmissions were sent via an “unauthenticated, free format” message “of normal priority” that did not immediately catch the attention of bank officials that Tuesday morning, amid the deluge of interbank fund transfer messages after the Chinese New Year long weekend.

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“So when we received 790 [Swift] messages, our officers proceeded to read the emails sequentially, unless we had a stop payment, which would be the first that we would read or high priority messages, none of which applied to the Bangladesh Bank,” Estavillo said.

Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona, chairman of the Blue Ribbon committee, expressed dissatisfaction with RCBC’s procedures that allowed the funds to be withdrawn despite the subsequent messages from Bangladesh.

“Had you opened the text, you would have been sufficiently alarmed. It does say ‘top urgent, top urgent’,” the lawmaker said, reading the Swift message to RCBC.

Estavillo countered that Bangladeshi authorities used “vague terms” in its message, adding that the bank had, in the past, “received many stop orders but never anything as ambiguous as this.”

Guingona countered by quoting the message again: “We think the transaction is contradictory to the anti-money laundering law.”

“I think that’s clear enough,” he said. “To me that’s pretty clear. I’m not a banker, but to me it’s pretty clear.”

To settle the issue, the Senate summoned a BSP official familiar with the Swift system used by international banks to communicate fund transfer instructions among each other.
Speaking at the hearing, BSP Settlement Services Division acting manager Nenita Cadapan said that the reason the Bangladesh Bank could not send the more commonly used high priority stop payment order via the Swift system was that the Bangladesh Bank and RCBC did not have previous dealings that would have allowed an “authenticated” message to be used.

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“Would a bank be able to know if the sender [of the funds] is a central bank and not just an ordinary bank?” Guingona asked her.

Cadapan replied that the Swift system would automatically identify in its messages — via an eight-character code — the parties involved in the transaction, including the name of the institution and the country it was from.

“You can identify who and from where the registered user of that Swift code is,” she said, adding that even banks using an old Swift database of codes could easily determine the identity of the sender by searching on the Internet.

“You can Google it,” she said.

RCBC officials also heaped blame on their former Jupiter St., Makati City branch manager Maia Deguito for allegedly facilitating the release of the funds despite the stop-payment request from Bangladesh.

Deguito countered, however, that she consulted with her superiors on what to do with the funds once it was flagged as suspicious, to which RCBC treasurer Raul Tan supposedly replied to her in a phone call: “That’s not our problem. That’s the problem of Bangladesh.”

Tan confirmed speaking with Deguito on the phone but said he could not recall making this statement.  SFM

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TAGS: AMLC, Anti-Money Laundering Act, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Bangladesh, Bangladesh central bank, Banking, Banks, BSP Settlement Services Division, business, commercial banks, congressional hearing, congressional inquiry, Crime, cyber crime, cyber heist, cybercrime, Features, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Global Nation, Hacking, international banking, Julia Bacay-Abad, Justice, Law, Law enforcement, legislative hearing, legislative inquiry, Ma. Celia Fernandez-Estavillo, Maia Santos-Deguito, money laundering, nation, Nenita Cadapan, Philippine Congress, Philippines, Raul Tan, RCBC, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., Senate, Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Teofisto Guingona III
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