Tuesday, October 20, 2020

DOJ charges 5 former RCBC officials for facilitating money laundering

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State prosecutors have charged 5 former and current Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) officials of facilitating money laundering in connection with the February 2016 $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist.

Charged before the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 141 were former RCBC Treasurer and Executive Vice President Raul Victor Tan, National Sales Director for Retail Banking Ismael Reyes, Regional Sales Director for Retail Banking Brigitte Capiña, Customer Service Head for Jupiter Business Center Romualdo Agarrado and Senior Customer Relations Officer for Jupiter Business Center Angela Ruth Torres.

Tan, who was then head of Treasury and a member of senior management and the Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Committee of RCBC, is accused of lifting a hold order on 4 RCBC accounts that received millions of dollars stolen from the Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve in New York, without discussing the matter with the bank’s AML committee. Tan resigned in April 2016.

Reyes is accused of dispensing with the investigation of suspicious transactions involving the 4 dollar accounts; Capiña of failing to conduct enhanced due diligence; Agarrado of approving large cash withdrawals and transfers from the fictitious dollar accounts; and Torres of processing the withdrawals and transfers.

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Prosecutors, however, absolved Direct Sales Director Nestor Pineda for alleged lapses in determining the authenticity of the 4 bank accounts, saying it was then-RCBC Jupiter branch manager Maia Deguito who vouched for the authenticity of the accounts.

Deguito was convicted of 8 counts of money laundering in January this year.

The DOJ probe found that RCBC’s Settlement Department received urgent SWIFT messages twice from Bangladesh Bank warning of a “doubtful” and “fraudulent” transaction and urged RCBC to stop payment and freeze the account of the beneficiary for proper investigation, but these warnings were allegedly ignored.

In finding probable cause to charge the accused, DOJ prosecutors relied on the “willful blindness doctrine” or 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.

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“By the very nature of their work in handling millions of pesos in daily transactions, the degree of responsibility, care and trustworthiness expected of bank employees and officials are greater than those of ordinary clerks and employees,” read the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel resolution.

“Their complacent attitude in handling the suspicious remittances is unacceptable, and rocked the integrity of our banking system,” it added.

The DOJ resolution, however, noted that the defenses raised by the five accused are best threshed-out in a full-blown trial.

In a statement, RCBC legal counsel Thea Daep said their internal investigation has cleared the five accused.

“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,” she said.

“We expect the complaint to be dismissed consequently,” she added.

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