Sep 072016

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has reiterated its commitment to return to Bangladesh money illegally channeled to the local financial system last February.

While underscoring the “100-percent support” of the entire government, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes legal processes should be followed in the return of the $81 million stolen from Bangladesh last February.

The two met in Makati City recently, together with representatives from the central bank, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the departments of Foreign Affairs and Justice.

“We want to assure you that the Philippine government, including all its instrumentalities,… are 100 percent behind you, that we want to assure you that we will do everything that we can to assist you,” Dominguez was quoted as saying in a statement.

“We have, however, a legal system that has to be respected and this system has to be followed so that whatever claim you are awarded, nobody can challenge that in the future,” he added.

For now, the government is focused on securing the $15 million surrendered in two batches by casino operator Kim Wong, who was part of a web of personalities where the money passed through.

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Wong gave up the money to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which is keeping it while awaiting a court ruling that will award the money to the government.

A petition has already been filed by the DOJ before the Manila Regional Trial Court, while the AMLC is yet to finish its investigation.

“Our legal team here (and) the AMLC, are protecting your interests in making sure that even when they turn (the money) over to you, there is no more question as to who’s going to get it,” Dominguez told Gomes.

Aside from the $15 million, recovery efforts are also underway for another $2.3 million voluntarily frozen by Bloombery Resorts and Hotels Inc., one of the casinos where the money was believed to have passed through.

AMLC is also “working on” recovering $17 million more held by remittance firm PhilRem Service Corp. as Gomes testified before the Senate inquiry early this year.

That will bring the total amount traceable so far to only $34.3 million. AMLC earlier said its investigation led the money trail to the casinos before its lost track.

BSP and AMLC officials did not respond to request for comment yesterday.

“The immediate objective right now is …the $15 million plus the $2 million. We can assist you 100 percent on that. The AMLC, as they mentioned, is continuing the investigation for whatever balance there is,” Dominguez said.

“Maybe there’s another $17 million, but we’re going to continue seeking that and hopefully recovering that on your behalf,” he added.

The $81-million money laundering case brought to the fore the country’s weak dirty money laws and resulted into PhilRem’s license being revoked by BSP.

Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. was also fined a record P1 billion for its participation. Half of that amount had already been settled.

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