Proof of money laundering
The ongoing trial for plunder of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla will put to test the credibility of the Anti-Money Laundering Act as an instrument for effective law enforcement.
The testimony of whistle-blowers Benhur Luy and other former employees of Janet Lim-Napoles about the latter’s and the three senators’ participation in the pork barrel scam may be insufficient to secure a conviction for the accused.
Proof beyond reasonable doubt requires more than the whistle-blowers’ statements and their personal notes on the sums of money Napoles allegedly gave to the senators as their share in the loot.
Without other independent evidence, these cases will most likely be reduced to a “he said, she said” situation that may result in an acquittal.
This equation could change, one way or the other, if the representatives of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) take the witness stand to testify on the senators’ bank accounts and other financial transactions.
The procedural objections and peripheral issues the defense lawyers have raised on the presentation of the AMLC’s findings on those bank accounts give the impression that they may be adverse to their clients.
Considering the AMLC’s mandate, however, it is doubtful if it can be barred from getting involved in the proceedings.
The AMLC is tasked by law to protect the integrity of the country’s banking system and prevent it from becoming an instrument for money laundering.
To accomplish this mandate, it is authorized to examine the accounts and transactions of persons and corporations in banks, quasi-banks, trust entities and all other business entities supervised or regulated by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Wise to the evasive strategies of money launderers, the law has expanded AMLC’s investigative power to cover insurance companies, securities dealers, investment houses and other companies that deal in currencies, cash substitutes and similar financial instruments.
The rule of thumb is, any transaction made or coursed through any of the entities mentioned in excess of P500,000 within one banking day, or is otherwise suspicious in character, should be immediately reported by the entity concerned to the AMLC.
If, upon receipt of the information, the AMLC thinks the transaction bears some indications of money laundering, it can look into deeper and, when justified, order the reporting company to give more details about it.
Failure to comply with that order could result in serious administrative, civil and criminal consequences to the defiant party.
With such powers, the public expects the AMLC to meticulously and carefully examine the records of banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions suspected as depository of pork barrel funds diverted from their intended beneficiaries.
Assuming these institutions scrupulously follow the regulatory authorities’ “know your customer” rule, i.e., all accounts should be under the name of their true owners, tracing the movement of funds in and out of bank or financial accounts would not be difficult.
Who knows, a false sense of hubris, or feeling that a Senate seat entitles its occupant to immunity from certain legal responsibilities, may have guided some of the accused into opening bank accounts under their name or those of the members of their family.
The bigger challenge to the AMLC is if the accounts used as depository for pork barrel funds are placed under the names of other persons or companies that, on record, have no links to the accused or any of their relatives.
Unless the AMLC gets reliable tips from third parties about the true character of these accounts, it may find itself in a wild goose chase that could sap its limited staff and resources without getting the desired results.
Here’s where the AMLC’s expertise and experience in detecting dummy accounts and fraudulent transactions would have to come into play.
With the aid of computer technology, it has to do a Sherlock Holmes using all information it can extract from the whistle-blowers about their transactions with the accused, their personnel or related third parties.
The AMLC can learn a lesson or two about this technique from its counterpart in other countries that have done it with success.
Gathering data about possible money laundering is one thing, proving the crime is another.
It is not uncommon for otherwise winning cases to be lost due to sloppy presentation of evidence or wrong application of procedural rules.
What may look like simple to people familiar with complex financial transactions may not be so with the men and women sitting behind the judicial table who will decide if a crime has been committed or not.
In presenting the results of their examination of the financial accounts of the accused and tying the knots that would prove its case, the AMLC should make sure it is done in a manner that can be understood by a layman, not a financial analyst or banking expert.
This is not to belittle the capacity of the Sandiganbayan justices to see through the intricacies of financial transactions, but, as veteran lawyers would say, half of the courtroom battle is won if a party is able to present his case in a simple and comprehensible manner.
Toward this end, it is essential that AMLC work closely with the prosecution to make sure its testimony conforms to its own rules and will not be susceptible to questions of irregularity or biased handling.
A tough job lies ahead for AMLC, but nobody ever said proving the crime of money laundering is a walk in the park.
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