In and out: ‘Couriers of big Chinese cash tolerated’
MANILA, Philippines — The inaction of antimoney-laundering authorities allowed Chinese and Filipino couriers to hand-carry more than $447 million in cash through Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) from September 2019 to February, Sen. Richard Gordon said on Tuesday.
In a privilege speech, Gordon said bundles of crisp $100 bills were stashed in travel luggage that passed through under the very noses of Bureau of Customs (BOC) and airport personnel who “tolerated” the operations apparently in exchange for bribe money.
He said the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) also failed to immediately stop the brazen operations, allowing one of the Filipino couriers to bring in $34.7 million by flying in and out of the country 45 times.
“This is mercantile imperialism. They are buying our people … I am chagrined that this is happening to our country. This is totally unacceptable,” Gordon said.
He added: “The influx of inordinate and suspiciously large amounts of foreign currencies entering the country … without being flagged is an apparent scheme of money laundering being tolerated by authorities.”
Gordon’s accusation apparently nudged the Department of Finance (DOF) to do something about money laundering at Naia.
Probe ordered by President
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said on Tuesday that President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered a probe of the entry of dirty money into the country and the strengthening of the government’s antimoney laundering arm.
He said Duterte “confirmed the recommendation to have the [BOC] and the [AMLC] vigorously investigate and enhance monitoring” of these dirty money inflows.
Dominguez also said the President wanted “to certify as urgent pending bills affecting the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the lifting of the Bank Secrecy Law in cases of predicate crime such as money laundering and tax evasion.”
Showing BOC records, Gordon said a certain Simon John G. Rodriguez was held by BOC officers on Sept. 26, 2019, for failing to declare $700,000 in cash, which was stuffed in his hand-carry luggage, upon his arrival from Singapore at Naia Terminal 2.
Despite his arrest, Rodriguez was still allowed to travel at least 40 times, during which he transported a total of $32.6 million, the senator said.
The BOC had also tracked down the travels of one Elizabeth S. Rodriguez, who was able to bring in $34.7 million by flying to and from Singapore 45 times during the period.
Chinese couriers, too
Gordon said 45 other individuals, most of them Chinese citizens, made multiple trips to Hong Kong, carrying as much as $5 million.
Most of the travelers, including the Rodriguezes, claimed that they were using the money for “foreign exchange” while others declared that they brought the huge amounts for “investment,” “travel and casino” and “casino,” he said.
Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said he had already summoned the individuals mentioned in the BOC report to the hearing that he would conduct on Thursday.
“Obviously, there’s a need for us to check this. We have to act now. Who’s really profiting from this?” he said.
“Just because you declared that you were carrying money does not mean that you are not a money launderer. Even a grade school student would ask why you have that huge amounts of dollars, if you have a business and where did your money go,” he said.
Gordon noted that Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero notified the DOF, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Bureau on Internal Revenue as early as last September that customs officers had arrested individuals who tried to sneak in huge amounts of US dollars at Naia.
“But up to now, these agencies have yet to act (on Guerrero’s report),” the senator said, adding that it was only after the issue came out in the Inquirer last week that Finance Secretary Dominguez issued a statement about it.
“(These Chinese money launderers) have been doing this with such impunity they stick their tongues out as they go all the way to the bank,” he lamented. “They (DOF officials) have done nothing (for the past five months). If the Senate did not do its duty, then (we will not have heard of this).”
But presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the DOF was on top of the probe of the entry of dirty cash into the Philippines.
Panelo said Dominguez was leading the investigation of alleged money laundering by two syndicates.
In his interpellation of Gordon, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that the “shenanigans” involving Chinese citizens started only after the Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) flourished under the Duterte administration.
Drilon also noted that the Cambodian government had already shut down Chinese-owned offshore online gaming establishments after Beijing went after its citizens employed in the gambling operations.
“It seems that when it comes to China, (our government) is soft,” said Gordon.
He added that money laundering through Naia may have been taking place even before September last year.
In the House of Representatives, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers called on the chamber to investigate the alleged inaction of government agencies on the flow of money into the country.
Barbers called out the AMLC, BOC, DOF, the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which, he said, “appear tight-lipped and helpless” on how to resolve the issue.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government said it would coordinate with the BOC to identify the policemen and soldiers who allegedly escort foreign currency smugglers through the country’s airports.
—With reports from Ben O. de Vera, Julie M. Aurelio, Melvin Gascon and Jeannette I. Andrade
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