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Leave money launder probe to AMLC

THE LOCAL banking community is in a tizzy over the alleged money laundering of $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh Bank that found its way into local casinos and later remitted to overseas bank accounts.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) is leading the investigation of what may be the biggest and most serious case of money laundering in the country.

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Not much has been heard from the AMLC about the progress of its probe because the Anti-Money Laundering Law requires it to keep its action under wraps for now.

The results of the investigation are being awaited with bated breath by local and foreign financial institutions because of their possible serious implications on the country’s banking system.

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Despite AMLC having taken cognizance of the case as mandated by its charter, the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Anti-Money Laundering Act, headed by Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, nonetheless announced that it will also look into the matter.

The inquiry is aimed at, among others, looking into the possibility of including casinos in the entities that should be covered by anti-money laundering regulations.

Publicity

On its face, the objective of the investigation is legitimate or valid. It is the first step toward the possible amendment of the law.

But the timing and circumstances under which the inquiry will be conducted are skewed and do not raise confidence that it will stick to the declared purpose.

The elections are less than two months away. Aside from Guingona, the senator-members of the committee are Sergio Osmeña III, Grace Poe, Antonio Trillanes IV and Vicente Sotto, all of whom are running in the May polls.

All of them are in the thick of the election campaign. They are hungry for publicity or media exposure that can increase their level of awareness in the public’s eye.

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With some of them faring poorly in the polls, a congressional hearing that will give them free mileage will be most welcome, if not something to be sought earnestly.

Judging from the behavior of some of these senators in past Senate hearings, there is a strong possibility that the planned probe may be converted into a platform to attract public attention to boost their candidacies.

Proceedings

Although the other senators who are running for re-election or higher posts are not members of this committee, nothing can prevent them from crashing the hearing to share in the media exposure.

Grandstanding is par for the course in the Senate, but the problem is, some senators are not known for thinking before opening their mouths.

In their desire to get their sound bites quoted in the evening news or newspapers, these senators are prone to coming out with outlandish remarks or disparaging resource persons if the latter fail to give answers that conform to their way of thinking or bias.

What is worrisome is the probe on money laundering may stray from its declared objective and aggravate the already bad situation that some banks have found themselves in.

Banks and financial institutions are very sensitive to public perception about their stability and management competence.

Reckless statements during the hearing that tend to undermine the integrity of the banking system, or give the impression of mismanagement, may result in loss of confidence by depositors in their banks that could lead to bank runs.

Equally worrisome is the possibility of AMLC officials being asked to disclose their techniques and strategies in monitoring money laundering activities, or their coordination activities with their counterpart in foreign countries.

This will be a real bonanza to drug lords and crime syndicates that are looking for safe havens for their blood-soaked wealth.

Deliberations

From the practical point of view, the congressional investigation does not make any sense at all.

Other than the publicity it will generate and the few minutes of fame that some senators will probably enjoy, nothing substantive will come out of compelling the bank officials and government regulators concerned to appear and testify.

The term of the present Congress will expire on June 30. It is unrealistic (if not naive) to expect the committee to be able to come out with a report on its investigation, submit it to plenary for consideration, and the two houses of Congress to deliberate and agree on amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act in three and a half months.

No Filipino in his right mind will believe that the congressmen and senators will be so motivated by the oath of office they took to interrupt their campaigns and attend the sessions to discuss and amend that law.

Except for the lawmakers who want to avail themselves of free media exposure, the money laundering incident is not a life-and-death situation that can make them go back to work.

Bottom line, the congressional probe will be an utter waste of the people’s money and will only do more harm than good.

The country will be served better if the AMLC is allowed to do its work in the alleged $81 million money laundering without any interference from the publicity seekers in Congress.

This is one time when a do-nothing Congress (which it is anyway) is a welcome development.

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TAGS: AMLC, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Bank, Business, corporate security, money launder, money laundering
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