Antimoney laundering body to check Chinese millions
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief economic manager on Friday said he has asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to look into Chinese citizens who had brought huge amounts of money into the country.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said he was “familiar with the issue” raised by Sen. Richard Gordon, who revealed to the Inquirer on Thursday that several dozen Chinese visitors hand-carried more than $160 million (P8.19 billion) in cash between December 2019 and February this year.
Gordon, citing records from the Bureau of Customs (BOC), said it was likely that the money would be laundered in the Philippines and this appeared to be tolerated by the authorities.
“The Bureau of Customs informed me of the volume of foreign currency brought in by travelers who declared the amounts upon arrival,” Dominguez said. “I instructed them to inform the AMLC about this.”
The BOC is an agency under the Department of Finance.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno, the AMLC chair, has declined to comment on the information revealed by Gordon, who said he would open an investigation as chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee.
AMLC members also include Insurance Commissioner Dennis Funa and Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Emilio Aquino.
Reacting to Gordon’s exposé, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, said it was unbridled corruption that had allowed Chinese citizens to hand-carry such large amounts of money without being accosted at the airport.
Some Chinese individually carried as much as $5 million.
Several non-Chinese travelers, who arrived in the country from Singapore, declared they carried more than $25 million during the same period—from Dec. 17, 2019, to Feb. 12.
Gordon said “an inordinate amount of money” had entered the country in such a short period.
“I’m glad that Gordon has provided some details about these nefarious trade involving these Chinese tourists, who never had it so good in laundering their money, dirty or otherwise, but mostly dirty,” Lacson said in a text message to the Inquirer.
“This is mainly due to the ease of getting their illegal activities done in this country where easily corruptible officials in charge of protecting our borders abound,” the former national police chief said.
For POGO shutdown
Sen. Joel Villanueva, who had initiated a Senate investigation of the influx of Chinese workers in the country, said Gordon’s exposé underscored the need for government to immediately shut down Philippine offshore gaming operators (POGOs).
He said the alleged money laundering activities of Chinese nationals were related to the online gaming business, which has been flourishing under the Duterte administration.
In their declarations to the BOC, many of the Chinese travelers claimed they would be using the money for “travel and casino” while others said they were for “investment.”
“As we have warned before, POGO operations in the country will create opportunities for illegal activities, including money laundering,” Villanueva said.
He said that during a hearing he had conducted as chair of the Senate labor committee, the AMLC warned that POGOs posed security and financial risks, such as money laundering.
“For us, the evidence on the negative effects brought about by Pogos are glaring. It is happening right before our eyes and we can no longer turn our heads the other way,” Villanueva said. “We should stop the operations of POGOs now.”
“Gambling, in any form or kind, attracts criminal activities as we have seen in the previous months and years,” he added.
While there was no restriction on how much cash a foreign traveler may bring into the country, Villanueva said authorities should impose stricter measures in monitoring what they do with their money here.
“Obviously, they are avoiding the [country’s] formal financial structures,” Villanueva said.
Lacson said AMLC and BOC officials should have placed the Chinese nationals who brought in huge amounts of cash under close monitoring and investigation to determine whether they were involved in any criminal activity.
“The problem is, everything has been prearranged and payoffs already made to concerned agencies in a well-coordinated and organized manner,” Lacson lamented.
“Since the modus operandi of unscrupulous officials is to escort the Chinese tourists to the ‘interrogation room’ under the pretext of investigation or further inquiry, they manage to avoid the biometrics … in case of ‘red-flagged’ or tagged individuals, both arriving and leaving. It all boils down to corruption,” he pointed out.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, Senate finance committee chair, said arriving foreigners must abide by the regulations and existing laws that required them to report all the currencies they were carrying.
“[This is] to ensure that the government is not being cheated of its share in any revenues that might accrue from any activities in the informal sector,” he said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian agreed that the scheme could be a money-laundering activity that errant government officials have been tolerating.
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