Where’s CCTV footage in RCBC branch?
THE CLOSED-CIRCUIT television (CCTV) system of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City turned mysteriously faulty when $81 million in laundered money slipped through RCBC until the day that most of it had flowed into banks and other entities, including local casinos.
“It (CCTV) was conveniently not working on that day,” said Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is set to hold an inquiry today into the laundering of the $81 million hacked from the central bank of Bangladesh.
Guingona described the CCTV’s condition as “definitely” suspicious.
The breakdown of the CCTV system at the bank was relayed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to the Senate blue ribbon committee.
The AMLC has directed RCBC to produce the CCTV footage of the Jupiter Street branch for
Feb. 5—the day that some $81 million was wired to four bank accounts in the branch, based on documents obtained by Inquirer.
The big inflow was later found out by local authorities to be “dirty” money stolen by hackers from the account of Bangladesh Bank (the central bank of Bangladesh) with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
An official request for the CCTV footage was made on Feb. 15 by AMLC officer in charge Vencent Salido in a letter to RCBC head of antimoney laundering department, Laurinda Rogero.
Specifically, the AMLC wanted to review the Feb. 5 transactions involving the bank accounts of Michael Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosa, Alfred Vergara, Enrico Vasquez and Willam So Go.
These are five of the six individuals whose bank accounts were earlier ordered frozen by the Court of Appeals upon the request of the AMLC, which has been probing what it believed to be a conspiracy to pass off money obtained from illicit means as legitimate funds into the financial system.
The footage is seen as crucial in unlocking the mystery on how the money from Bangladesh Bank slipped into four RCBC bank accounts, consolidated into a single US dollar account in the name of businessman William Go, hastily withdrawn, converted into pesos and transferred to other banks before the Bank of Bangladesh Bank realized the breach of its computer system and report the money transfer as “fraudulent.”
The footage is also crucial in picking up clues on whether the RCBC branch manager, Maia Santos-Deguito, was remiss in her duties, was being framed to be the scapegoat or as alleged by Go, was directly involved in the Philippine leg of the intricate money laundering scheme.
RCBC, however, will not be able to produce the footage.
In a letter-reply sent to the AMLC, RCBC quoted an internal audit showing that the CCTV was still “blurred” as of Jan. 8. A copy of the letter dated March 14 was obtained by the Inquirer.
“The technician repaired the CCTV on Jan. 26-27, 2016. Then on Feb. 4, 2016 (the day before the $81 million remittance), the CCTV was again reported to be not working by the customer service head of the branch around 6 p.m.,” said RCBC’s Rogero.
“The security department received the e-mail and submitted a ticket for repair to the vendor. The vendor only visited the BC (business center) on Feb. 9, 2016 around 2 p.m. The vendor’s report showed that it was the UPS that was not working and not the CCTV,” Rogero said.
UPS or uninterruptible power supply is a device that provides power supply back-up to computers.
“We find the timing of the damage to the CCTV to be suspicious. We have requested the vendor to further investigate the CCTV connection as we have reason to believe it was tampered [with],” she added.
By reporting that it was the UPS that bungled the CCTV system, the RCBC report implied that the tampering had been made at the bank branch during the days in question.
After the $81 million was wired to the four RCBC accounts on Feb. 5, cash withdrawal from Lagrosas’ account amounting to $22.73 million was made on the same day.
The money was deposited in the alleged foreign exchange account of William Go on the same day, of which $14.7 million was transferred to the account of remittance firm Philrem, the entity that converted most of the funds to pesos and transferred the peso equivalent to the ultimate beneficiaries who in turn kept bank accounts at Banco de Oro Unibank, East West Bank and Philippine National Bank.
Between Feb. 5 and 13, Philrem—dealing with the branch manager upon the alleged instructions of Go—remitted the funds converted into pesos in various tranches to the bank accounts of Chinese national Weikang Xu, Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. and Bloomberry Hotels Inc. (Solaire Resort and Casino) in other banks.
The AMLC letter also asked RCBC to produce documents on the five account holders alongside that of Philrem, the remittance firm.
Media outlets reported in Bangladesh Monday, quoting Bank and Financial Institutions Division Secretary M Aslam Alam, that the country’s central bank had recovered $68,000 of the stolen money.
The report matches the remaining balance that RCBC was able to freeze on the afternoon of Feb. 9, the day when Bangladesh Bank requested to reverse the fraudulent remittance order.
Based on documents obtained by Inquirer, RCBC was able to freeze on Feb. 9, the remaining balance from the following accounts: Enrico Vasquez ($10,341.86); Alfred Vergara ($36,483.25); Michael Cruz ($10,891) and Jessie Christopher Lagrosas ($10,619.52).
At today’s hearing, the blue ribbon committee wants to find out what happened to the $81 million and who should be held accountable for the loss, according to Guingona.
Among the questions Guingona will ask is why such a big amount of money that entered the bank was withdrawn with clearances from bank officials.
At the hearing, Lorenzo Tan, president and CEO of RCBC and Deguito are expected to finally confront each other on the controversy.
According to investigators, Deguito facilitated the transfer of the $81 million to five accounts in her branch. But Deguito countered that Tan had instructed her to allow the transfer of the $81 million to the five accounts. Tan called Deguito’s claim an “outright lie.”
“So we will see (today) who is telling the truth, who is more credible when they face each other—the top management of the bank versus the branch manager,” Guingona said.
The chair of the state-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Cristino Naguiat, said he would attend today’s Senate investigation. With a report from Nikko Dizon
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