Wong returns $4.63M
They started counting the $100 bills at 3:30 p.m.
Two and a half hours later, using three counting machines that
can automatically detect the authenticity of paper currency, staffers of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) tallied a cash pile of $4.63 million, turned over by casino junket operator Kim Wong.
The amount is believed to be part of the $81 million stolen by computer hackers from Bangladesh Bank in February and has turned into the largest money-laundering case to be uncovered in the Philippines.
Kim Wong’s lawyer, Inocencio Ferrer Jr., personally turned over the money to AMLC member and insurance Commissioner Emmanuel Dooc, executive director Julia Bacay-Abad and other BSP officials.
“Today Mr. Kim Wong kept his promise to the Senate blue ribbon committee to return $4.63 million in his casino to the AMLC for later transmittal to the Bangladesh central bank,” Ferrer later told reporters.
“We are here because Mr. Kim Wong kept his word. He fulfilled his promise to bring the money to the AMLC,” Ferrer said.
Ambassador John Gomes and Probash Lamarong, second secretary and head of chancery of the Bangladesh Embassy in Manila, witnessed the turnover of the $4.63 million contained in a large purple trolley bag containing 46 bundles in $100 denominations and some loose bills.
“We hope this [is] a step in the right direction,” Gomes said.
“We thank Sen. TG (Teofisto) Guingona, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, for making this turnover possible. We also thank the AMLC and BSP Gov. Amando Tetangco for graciously accommodating our request for the AMLC to be the temporary repository of these funds prior to its return to the people of Bangladesh,” Ferrer said.
Earlier, Wong told the committee that he had no knowledge nor participation in the entry and transmittal of stolen funds to the Philippines via Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), which eventually ended up in Midas and Solaire casinos.
Ferrer declined to say where the money was stored before it was delivered to the AMLC, only disclosing that they were provided a van with two security aides to accompany him and the huge amount on their way to its office at the BSP compound.
“The stature of the Philippines in the world community is restored today; even without the [intervention of] courts, part of the funds were returned,” Ferrer said.
According to the BSP, the money will be kept for safekeeping by the AMLC in the BSP vault.
Ferrer said Wong was innocent of money-laundering charges filed against him by the AMLC.
“He is without fault,” Ferrer said. “Whether Kim Wong returned the money or not, he has committed no crime,” he said when asked if his client was off the hook.
Dooc, however, said Wong’s action on Thursday did not make him less accountable. “No, there’s no quid pro quo here,” the AMLC member said in a text message to the Inquirer when asked if the council would withdraw the case against the businessman.
“His legal counsel, however, stressed that their turning over of the substantial amount to Bangladesh Bank with our help should in no way be interpreted as an admission of guilt on his client’s side,” Dooc said.
“There is no such arrangement,” Abad said when asked if the AMLC would withdraw the charges it had filed against Wong.
Wong testified on Tuesday’s hearing that two high rollers from Beijing and Macau shifted the $81 million to dollar accounts in RCBC. He said he did not know the money was stolen from Bangladesh and that he merely helped the two men, who are also his casino clients, open bank accounts.
He offered to return the money, which he said remained in his account in Solaire, one of the Philippine capital’s gleaming billion-dollar casinos.
Gomes said Bangladesh wanted to get back the $34 million that a lawmaker had said could still be recovered.
Earlier yesterday, Sen. Ralph Recto said as much as $34 million, almost half of the sum stolen, could be recovered from two casinos and a foreign exchange brokerage based on testimonies from the hearing.
By Recto’s own calculations, this would include $17 million that Wong claimed was still with exchange brokerage Philrem and $10 million from a destitute casino in the north.
There was also $5.5 million that Wong picked up from the house of Philrem’s owner and a further $2.3 million in the Solaire casino account of the Macau man who allegedly brought the $81 million to the Philippines.
“Our law enforcement agencies must act swiftly to recover any portion of the loot that is still [in the Philippines],” Recto said in a statement.
“It is very important to recover as much of the money and return it to Bangladesh. The money was stolen from a poor country,” he added.
The brazen heist highlighted how the Philippine’s banking loopholes and antimoney-laundering laws have made the country a dirty money destination. With a report from AFP
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