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Biz Buzz: The ties that bind

/ 12:38 AM March 18, 2016

Not too long ago, several online casino operators set up shop at the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, a virtual “independent republic” insofar as economic laws are concerned, and as such, is an attractive venue for businesses like car importers and gaming firms.

Ceza, of course, is the location of one of the gaming firms where some of the $81 million in laundered funds stolen from Bangladesh went, via Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. and Philrem.

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Anyway, these online casino operations—doing things like “proxy betting” (where bettors don’t actually have to be onsite, but can monitor table games from overseas, like China, via the Internet)—were making good money at Ceza until the explosion in the number of online clients made life difficult for them.

Why? Because the telecommunication infrastructure in Ceza was not sufficient to accommodate all the Internet traffic from abroad, so much so that the country’s telecommunication duopoly even had to augment their facilities in Cagayan province to address the complaints of poor service.

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So, pending the fixing of the telecommunications shortcomings, and to placate the complaining online casino operators, the Ceza leadership allowed these companies to set up branches in locations outside of the special economic zone.

Many of these online gaming operations—including one with close links to a junket operator who is being named in the ongoing $81-million money laundering scam—needed a location which had a strong telecommunication and information technology backbone to support their growing businesses, mainly from mainland Chinese high rollers.

Well, well. By some strange twist of fate, it just so happened that there was a building along Ayala Ave. which was accredited by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority as an IT zone, complete with all the telecommunication infrastructure that the gaming operators need. So that was where they set up their satellite operations.

That building is none other than… RCBC Plaza. What a coincidence. Daxim L. Lucas

The ties that bind, part 2

Calls continue for a closer examination of the ties between top executives at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) and remittance firm Philrem Service Corp., amid revelations over the roles these institutions played in the $81-million money laundering scandal.

Some of our sources said lawmakers should even look years back—all the way back to 2012, in fact—to an incident involving the tragic drowning of a former RCBC official, who was overpowered by the strong currents off Zambales.

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This official had close personal ties with another top RCBC official who earlier admitted that he brought the former along to the Yuchengco-owned bank from their previous employment, another large local bank.

The late stockbroker was described by his former boss in earlier reports as a talented and “nice guy.”

But what hasn’t made mainstream news was that the late RCBC official, on the fateful day that he drowned, was traveling on a yacht with one of the owners of a major remittance company, and is indeed listed as its treasurer based on its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to the grapevine, the late former RCBC official was even a stakeholder of the remittance company at that time.

The late banker/stockbroker was no longer with RCBC at the time of his passing. He had just resigned from the brokerage firm in the wake of reports of unauthorized transactions made by a rogue trader that cost investors millions of pesos.

Rogue trader? It almost sounds like the “rogue branch manager” story that the RCBC management has been telling the Senate, doesn’t it? Miguel R. Camus and Daxim L. Lucas

Coming soon: Villar conglomerate

Of the 11 tycoons from the Philippines who made it to 2016 roster of the wealthiest people on the planet, businessman and former politician Manuel Villar Jr. is among the few without any holding company for various business interests.

Recently, the Villar group consolidated shopping mall arm with flagship Vista Land & Lifescapes, but don’t be surprised if Villar takes the same route taken by many tycoons—the latest of whom are George Ty (GT Capital), Lucio Co (Cosco Capital) and Lucio Tan (LT Group Inc.) of creating a single holding company for all businesses and raising fresh capital for them.

Asked why he doesn’t have any publicly listed company, Villar told reporters yesterday there were now discussions on this.  “It will give you cash outside of operating companies,” he said.  It won’t likely happen this year, Villar said, adding that the stock market isn’t favorable for such an undertaking.

The Villars are mum whether the future conglomerate will be a new listing or a backdoor-listing into one of those unused shell companies out there. Remember that they still have the shell company used by Starmalls.

VLL president Paolo Villar said there’s no plan to delist Starmalls but noted there wasn’t any plan yet for this unit.

Outside of VLL which now holds all the property businesses of the group, the Villar family has retailing businesses (department store chain AllHome, convenience store chain All Day, fashion store AllShoppe), memorial parks (Golden Haven), schools and hospital (VitaCare).

The younger Villar has set up Prime Asset Venture Inc. (PAVI), a holding firm for power, mining, water and cable businesses, but it remains to be seen whether this would be included in the future conglomerate or will be developed as Paolo’s own new conglomerate.

We kidded the former presidential aspirant that if he would create a new publicly listed company, it could boost his Forbes ranking because of the consequent price discovery of other assets.

The 65-year-old businessman has an estimated net worth of $1.3 billion, lower than $1.6 billion’s last year.  He made it to the global list for the second year in a row, ranking 11th place.  “Ako nga kulelat (I’m the bottom-dweller among those coming from the Philippines), he said.  But maybe not for long. Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Yaya Dub finds ways

Social media darling Maine Mendoza aka “Yaya Dub” of the #Aldub love team fame has bagged another major brand endorsement deal.

She is now the face of the country’s largest bank Banco de Oro Unibank.

Both BDO chair Teresita Sy-Coson and BDO president Nestor Tan like Mendoza for her charm and mass appeal, bank sources said.

Last Christmas, Tan even played Alden Richards in an Aldub-themed party hosted by the bank, with three female officers from the group (including SM Investments investor relations chief Cora Guidote and BDO’s Honey Reyes) playing as the comic lolas.

Mendoza’s TV commercial with BDO debuted on major TV channels last Wednesday and likewise appeared on BDO’s official facebook page and YouTube channel.

The 21-year-old phenomenal celebrity said it was a dream to partner with BDO. The pitch is “Abot ang pangarap pag BDO ang kausap” (BDO can find ways to help you achieve your dream). Being a self-confessed big-time dreamer, Mendoza is seen appealing not only to millennials but to everyone who wants to have his/her own house, car and business to manage.

In the past, BDO’s roster of brand endorses included “Ser Chief” Richard Yap, Piolo Pascual and Xian Lim. Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

E-mail us at [email protected] 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: bangladesh, Cagayan Economic Zone Authority, Maine Mendoza, Manuel Villar Jr., Philrem, RCBC, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., social media, Yaya Dub
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