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Biz Buzz: Laughing all the way to the bank

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Biz Buzz: Laughing all the way to the bank

05:10 AM September 11, 2017

Remember that $17 million that remained unaccounted for as the Senate concluded its probe into the Bangladesh Bank cyber heist last year?

All the parties and personalities questioned by lawmakers and probers—Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., its former branch manager Maia Deguito, casino junket operator Kim Wong and the Bautista couple of foreign exchange broker Philrem—denied having those funds.

During the hearings, Wong told senators that the missing funds (which make up a fifth of the $81 million stolen from the Bangladeshi central bank by hackers) were in the possession of Philrem, which its owners Michael “Concon” and Salud “Sheba” Bautista denied.

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Since then, however, there have been reports of attempts by the party who was holding those funds (whoever it really is) to return the funds to either the Philippine or Bangladeshi governments. But they were trying to find an avenue of doing it in a way that would not expose them to criminal liability for being the last party to be in possession of stolen cash.

(One scheme raised the possibility of the cash being abandoned an a hotel room and the ‘abandoner’ tipping off authorities to pick the money up afterward. It came to nought, of course.)

But now Biz Buzz hears that this party who still controls the funds—it’s still sloshing around in the local financial system, we’re told—has changed his/her/its mind about returning the funds. And why should it? The issue has all but gone away.

Last week, the Department of Justice cleared a host of parties originally subjected to money laundering complaints by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (with Wong’s exculpation last year being reaffirmed this time around, given his Senate testimonies and return of millions of dollars and pesos to the government, all in cash, mind you).

Cleared were the Bautista couple and their firm’s anti-money laundering compliance officer Anthony Pelejo. That—as expected and predicted by many observers and pubdits—left Deguito holding the proverbial empty bag for which she will face trial alone. Ouch.

One observer noted that the party still holding the missing $17 million could have returned all of the stolen funds and still keep a cool P40 million in foreign exchange gains thanks to the P3 depreciation of the peso against the dollar over the period in question. But hey, why keep a gain of only P40 million when one can laugh all the way to the bank with the entire 884-million peso equivalent, right? —DAXIM L. LUCAS

MVP’s quick hire

PLDT chair Manuel V. Pangilinan seems in no rush to select a CEO, a position he also currently holds. But let it not be said that everyone he hires has to wait too long.

One of the group’s pilots, Capt. Patrick Therrien, shared with BizBuzz his barely-a-minute, three-question job interview with Pangilinan when he joined two years ago.

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For those who have been around decades ago, it’s common knowledge that Pangilinan himself survived a traumatizing helicopter crash in 1998 while flying during bad weather.

Therrien said all Pangilinan wanted to know was whether he was aware of the incident, what went wrong—poor pilot decision-making that led to a “controlled flight into terrain”, a formal term for that kind of crash—and the most important question of all: “Is that ever going to happen to us?”

“I said impossible,” Therrien recalled.

Therrien, of course, now flies for Pacific Global One, the recently spun-off aviation company of PLDT.

The unit recently opened part of its fleet to the well-heeled public and offers chartered flights from its Manila terminal. Guests can choose either from its King Air 350 turboprop plane or Bell 429 helicopter.

The aircraft were solely used for the group’s internal requirements, but opening them for rentals fits into PLDT’s current overall goal to cut costs and perhaps even produce a profit. (Planes and choppers are notoriously expensive to fly and maintain, after all).

Rene “Butch” Meily, president of Pacific Global One, said it was an exciting industry with a surprisingly diverse market.

He said there were some families or small groups who wouldn’t mind flying to Tagaytay for a quick lunch or to one of the country’s thousand of islands.

There’s lots of time to be saved, especially if one is shelling out P50,000 an hour for this service. —MIGUEL R. CAMUS

Malaysians unite

Given the strong ties between the Philippines and Malaysia, both among the co-founders of the 50-year-old Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Malaysian trade officials have long wondered why there’s no official chamber of commerce for Malaysians in the Philippines. In fact, there isn’t any foreign chamber of commerce from any Asean nation in this part of the world even as the Asean Economic Community has been officially formed.

This has changed recently with the creation of the Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industries Philippines (MCCI), led by its president Edward Ling, president of food supplements distributor Wheatgrass CAN International Inc. and who has lived in the Philippines for the last 12 years. MCCI, with its initial pool of 25 members, was officially launched last week.

Other key MCCI officials are vice president Eric Yam (vice president), an entrepreneur and strategic marketing consultant who’s a business matching adviser to many companies from Malaysia; treasurer En Azhar Mahmood, financial controller of Berjaya Hotel Philippines, and corporate secretary Alimatar Garangan, central president of Rotary International Las Pinas.

“We all felt that together we could really help extend and expand trade between the two countries since we are basically Malaysians based here in the Philippines for the long haul,” Ling said, citing efforts especially with MCCI vice president Yam to create the chamber. “Together we have been through thick and thin, and the ins and outs of doing business in the Philippines and we felt that since this year happens to be the year where the Philippines plays host to the Asean Summit and with the new administration really making a very dynamic effort to focus on building the country, it is actually the perfect timing for a Malaysia Chamber to be born.”

In conjunction with its official launch, MCCI signed memoranda of understanding to work with with three other trade organizations, the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Bangsa Moro Federal Business Council and Business Network International Philippines.

MCCI’s vision is to “achieve a successful and harmonious diversity of trade and culture and to play a contributing role in enhancing relations between Malaysia and the Philippines, while improving ties with other nations.”—DORIS DUMLAO-ABADILLA

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