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Biz Buzz: Red faces at RCBC, AMLC

/ 12:10 AM July 08, 2016

There must have been a lot of red faces and hand-wringing at RCBC’s forex arm following the firm’s recent embarrassing admission of a grave error that led to the wrongful prosecution and freezing of accounts of one of its big clients.

In a certification dated May 25, 2016 addressed to agri-entrepreneur Antonio “Tony” Tiu, RCBC Forex Brokers Corp. vice president and senior trader Criselda Espinosa admitted that RCBC’s forex unit erred when it issued a suspicious transaction report about a supposed $20-million purportedly purchased by Tiu on Dec. 10, 2008.

This Covered Transaction Report (CTR) on the non-existent $20-million transaction became the basis for the filing by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) of money laundering charges against Tiu and the subsequent freezing of his numerous accounts.

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Despite protestations of innocence and vehement denials, Tiu’s pleas fell on AMLC’s deaf ears, say Biz Buzz sources. And it was only after threats of a damage suit against RCBC did the forex broker eventually relented and issued the controversial certification rectifying their mistake.

Incensed by RCBC Forex’s error and what he perceives as AMLC’s “persecution,” Tiu recently filed criminal charges of perjury against AMLC executive director Julia Bacay-Abad before the Department of Justice for allegedly using false information to justify the freezing of his accounts.

As a result of the “baseless” money laundering charges and frozen accounts, Tiu claims he sustained irreparable damage to his business standing and personal reputation from which he is still recovering.

Stressing that “with great power, comes great responsibility,” Tiu said he believed AMLC’s Abad could simply use “good faith” as defense against the perjury charges. As AMLC head, the businessman said Abad should have verified and double-checked the basis for her anti-money laundering suit instead of hastily relying on information that turned out to be false.

With RCBC Forex’s admission of error, it remains to be seen whether AMLC will also be contrite for its own actions against Tiu. At the end of the day, this rare and controversial admission of error is not going to help RCBC Forex’s mother unit which was recently caught in the center of one of the world’s biggest cyberheists. How this saga will play out is still the million dollar question. Watch this space for more juicy developments people. Daxim L. Lucas

Tycoons at Gilas

IN WHAT could be further proof that there is genuine rapprochement between two of the country’s largest conglomerates, businessmen Ramon Ang and Manuel Pangilinan were both spotted at the Fiba Olympic qualifiers of the Philippine ‘Gilas’ team at the SM Mall of Asia Area a few nights ago.

Naturally, they were situated a few seats apart, but it is Biz Buzz’s understanding that the two gentlemen actually agreed during an earlier encounter to watch the highly anticipated basketball game.

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This is significant, partly because Ang—the president of San Miguel Corp.—is not a regular fixture at basketball matches, even those involving the conglomerate’s teams in the local professional league. He doesn’t even watch live games even when his teams are playing in the finals, so this personal appearance is significant, given that the Gilas group is primarily led by his erstwhile rival Pangilinan.

That both tycoons were seen together comes on the heels of an announcement that MVP-led Meralco will take a 49-percent stake in San Miguel’s 600-megawatt Mariveles, Bataan power project. Before this, Ang confirmed that there were talks for the two groups to link up for the $10-billion undertaking that was Manila’s new international airport which was still on the drawing board.

As they join forces in business, they can also, apparently, join forces to support the national basketball team, with three players from San Miguel-owned teams reinforcing Gilas.

Of course, the luckiest business leader in MOA that night was SM Prime chair Hans Sy who, as host of the event, got to sit beside President Duterte in section 106—definitely the best seats in the house. Daxim L. Lucas

Falling in line

WITH MORE of President Duterte’s hardline policies coming into play, everyone seems to be falling in line. Even big corporations.

Recently, British American Tobacco Philippines (BAT) expressed its support for the strict nationwide implementation of a smoking ban in public places, as suggested earlier by the President.

Say what? Yes, BAT supports the public smoking ban.

Duterte has been known to implement a tough smoking ban in public places in Davao City during his stint as mayor. He previously indicated that policies regarding smoking in public places would be scrutinized by his administration.

BAT chief James Michael Lafferty said while the government had yet to spell out the details of the proposal, BAT would have no issue with the implementation of a ban.

“Such bans are already being implemented throughout the country at varying degrees of enforcement, as already enshrined in Republic Act 9211 or the Tobacco Regulations Act of 2003.   We don’t see any issue with the new administration pushing for a more uniform enforcement across all LGUs,” Lafferty said.

RA 9211 prohibits smoking in the following public places: schools and centers of youth activity; elevators and stairwells; locations in which fire hazards are present; within the buildings and premises of public and private hospitals, health centers and similar institutions; public conveyances and public facilities including airport and ship terminals and train and bus stations, restaurants and conference halls, except for separate smoking areas; and food preparation areas.  For all other areas, smoking and non-smoking areas should be established.

“We are a responsible tobacco company that supports sensible regulations advocated by the government,” Lafferty added. “We may be in a controversial industry but we can still take responsible and honorable positions.” Well said. Daxim L. Lucas

P39-B Davao ‘Smart City’

PRESIDENT Duterte’s last official act as mayor of Davao City was to sign on June 21 a joint-venture agreement with Mega Harbour Development Corp. of Reghis M. Romero II for the P39-billion Davao coastline and port development project.

Naturally, the Mindanao business community is excited over this so-called “Smart City” that is expected to rise in three years, in time to take advantage of the investments expected to pour into the region.

Its proponents liken the urban development project to Bonifacio Global City—except that it would involve the reclamation of four islands. The project is also expected to serve as a southern gateway to neighboring Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

An unsolicited proposal by Romero’s firm’s last year, the project passed a Swiss challenge in November under a process in which Mega Harbour was to match a challenger’s bid.

The development will cover 200 hectares from the Sta. Ana wharf to the Bucana area where the Davao River flows out to the Davao Gulf. The first island will host a modern port, which will be the longest in the Davao region with a berthing length of 2.5 kilometers. The second and third islands will be for mixed-use development, including commercial components. In either of these two islands, the city government will get about five hectares for offices.

The fourth island will be primarily residential (it will host a relocation site for affected settlers in the project area) and will be connected to the mainland instead of to the first three islands.

Seen to improve Davao’s cityscape with its “green urbanism” concept, the project was approved last April 12 by the city council and will be undertaken at no cost to the city government.

Naturally, Duterte stressed to Romero that the affected settlers numbering a few thousands should not be unduly affected, hence the decision to provide them with housing on the fourth island.

Indeed, with Davao City having been recognized as among the top five safest cities in the world, it may well be on its way to become one of the most prosperous, too, if the investments come in as promised. Daxim L. Lucas

E-mail us at bizbuzz@inquirer.com.ph. Get business alerts and a preview of Biz Buzz the evening before it comes out. Text ON INQ BUSINESS to 4467 (P2.50/alert).

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TAGS: AMLC, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Business, economy, News, RCBC, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.
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