Since last Friday’s revelation that a rogue officer of Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. may have engineered one of the biggest cases of bank fraud in recent history, people have been curious to know more about the suspect.
Of course, the public knows by now that she was arrested by operatives of the National Bureau of Investigation in a sting operation last week right at the head office of Metrobank along Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. in Makati City. (We’re told the agents approached her calmly and she agreed to come along quietly. No one made a scene.)
But in the wake of Metrobank’s allegation that she was behind a loan scam worth anywhere between P900 million and P2.5 billion, snippets of information have emerged about her, reaching Biz Buzz mainly through some of her current and former associates in the industry.
According to bank insiders, she is a year away from the mandatory retirement age of 55. Many of her colleagues were shocked to find her accused of orchestrating such a scheme, given that she was so close to enjoying a comfortable retirement.
But why retire with just millions when one could have hundreds of millions, or even billions, quipped one banker.
Indeed, she was already living a comfortable life, with a declared monthly wage of P250,000—standard level for an assistant vice president. But she also moved around in a swanky Benz and, according to one source, even has an assistant-cum-bodyguard at her beck and call.
“People in Metrobank knew she was a powerful official, more powerful than her title would suggest,” one source told Biz Buzz. “She dressed better than most people and even had more expensive designer bags.”
Million-peso Birkin bags by luxury fashion house Hermes are a personal favorite of hers, according to another business personality as he sent Biz Buzz a picture of her and some ladies overseas with their fancy bags.
“She took her staff and subordinates to vacations and shopping trips abroad,” claimed another source.
As far as authorities are concerned, the most important question they want answered is whether she was a “lone wolf” actor in the scam or whether she was in league with co-conspirators. Many bankers think it’s impossible to pull off something this audacious without the help of others inside and out of the organization.
Other bankers and businessmen, however, are bothered by a somewhat more mundane question: “Why didn’t she quit while she was ahead?” Good question. —DAXIM L. LUCAS
Right and Wong
Sometimes, the right thing can come out of a “Wong” partnership.
That seems to be the scenario playing out between Zambrano Gruba Caganda & Advincula Law (ZGLaw) and Singapore’s Wongpartnership or WongP, as it is more popularly known. Both recently announced a “happy” union.
The end result is a new legal powerhouse in the country that also addresses the growing demand for cross-border expertise as closer regional ties make this part of the world a much smaller place.
WongP, which is expanding its presence across Asia, was previously in a joint venture with UK white shoe firm Clifford Chance.
For its part, ZGLaw is a low profile practice with quite a reputation in the areas of tax and corporate law. Its clients include Puregold, Banco de Oro, PBCom and British American Tobacco. Founder Lily Gruba was a bar examiner for tax and commercial law and now also assistant dean of Ateneo Law.
WongP joins Baker Mckenzie as one of the first foreign law firms looking to establish a foothold in the Philippines.
The timing is also impeccable, given President Duterte’s foreign policy emphasis on building relationships within Asia. —MIGUEL R. CAMUS
The price of success
It’s not easy being the head of a growing law firm, especially with all the investments one has to make to ensure that one recruits the brightest young legal minds in the industry.
It is even more difficult to head such a law firm when one is also the dean of a large college of law that has had a near-perfect passing record in the most recent bar exams.
Such is that case with Divina Law chief Nilo Divina who also happens to be the dean of the University of Santo Tomas’ law school.
You see, not to long ago, Divina was somewhat egged on to incentivize good performance for his students during last year’s bar exams by promising a monetary reward to not just the top bar passers … but every single student who would hurdle the rigorous process.
But here’s the deal as Divina had originally conceived it: The reward would be given on an all-for-one-one-for-all basis. That is to say, the UST law students would only enjoy the benefits if every single one of the graduating class passed the bar. Simple requirement: Produce a 100-percent passing rate … and the entire graduating class—every single one—would be sent on an all-expense-paid holiday to Boracay.
The dean was silently apprehensive over the costs of such an incentive, initially, until he was assured by a travel agent that they could assemble an “all-in” Boracay vacation package (airfare, hotel accommodations and a nice party) for P15,000 per head. With around 100 students in the graduating class, all Divina would have to shell out as reward for a perfect passing rate would be P1.5 million—peanuts for the head of a growing law practice, really.
As so it came to pass that, after the results of the bar were released last May, UST got only a 96-percent passing rate, giving Divina some mixed feelings. On one hand, he was sad that he didn’t get the perfect passing rate that he had hoped for for the law school he headed. On the other hand, he just narrowly dodged a P1.5-million bullet.
Not to worry, since he had also promised a token P5,000 incentive for every UST bar passer, and the traditional P500,000 prize for any topnotcher would be divided equally among the graduating class (since no one from UST, or any Metro Manila school for that matter) managed to land in the Top 10.
But lo and behold, during the testimonial dinner for the graduates, one senior faculty member stood up and made a formal statement thus: “We petition that the 96-percent bar passing rate be recognized by Dean Divina as ‘substantial compliance’ and grant the promised reward to the graduating class.”
Not surprisingly, it was immediately seconded, viva voce, and the rest is history: Almost 100 law school graduates were packed into a plane and sent off to a beach holiday, leaving Divina at least P1.5 million poorer (more, when one counts the additional incentives he gave), but with almost 100 new friends in the legal profession, and a rich hunting ground for recruits for his growing law firm.
All told, it wasn’t a bad trade off at all.
By the way, as far as Divina’s next moves are concerned, watch out for a new investment firm that the he will put up as a sister firm for the growing law office. —DAXIM L. LUCAS