Ex-DOTr exec, others face raps in Wirecard scam
MANILA, Philippines — Former Transportation assistant secretary Mark Tolentino and several others are facing a string of criminal charges in the Department of Justice for their alleged involvement in the $2.1-billion fraud at the German financial technology and payment services firm Wirecard AG.
The Philippines got embroiled in the scandal in June last year when an international search for some $2.1 billion in missing Wirecard funds turned to the country due to documents alleging that the fintech company had deposits in two local banks.
Auditors Ernst & Young refused to sign off on Wirecard’s 2019 financial statements because it could not verify the existence of 1.9 billion euros ($2.1 billion) supposedly held outside of Germany in escrow by third-party partners, which turned out to be Tolentino’s law firm. The missing money was reportedly deposited at Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) and BDO Unibank, two of the country’s biggest lenders.
Both banks denied that Wirecard had any deposit with them. However, some junior bank officers were found to have created the fake documents alleging that Wirecard had funds deposited in the local banks.
A few days after the controversy broke out, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas confirmed that no money from Wirecard entered the Philippine financial system and Wirecard later admitted that the $2.1 billion of its supposed cash probably did not exist.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) also found no indications that any of the missing funds ever landed on Philippine shores, confirming the earlier central bank pronouncement.
Included as respondents in the complaint jointly filed on May 31 by the National Bureau of Investigation and BPI were M.K. Tolentino Law Office, Wirecard chief operating officer Jan Marsalek, BPI employee Joey dela Cruz Arellano, Judith Singayan Pe and other unnamed individuals.
They were charged for falsification of commercial documents and violating several provisions of Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, the New Central Bank Act, and the Electronic Commerce Act.
The NBI said Arellano, an employee at the BPI branch in Malate, Manila, had admitted to receiving P10 million for issuing bogus bank certification documents that Tolentino and his law office needed as the supposed local trustee of Wirecard.
“Clearly, all the acts of Tolentino (and other accused) reveal their unified purpose to falsify bank certifications and related documents as well as the illegal access to the BPI’s … database,” read a portion of the NBI’s complaint.
“The group likewise engaged in bribery and corruption in order to conceal and suppress evidence to prevent the unraveling of their illegal activities,” it added.
It said Tolentino, who was fired by President Duterte from the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in 2018, had a similar arrangement with a certain Catherine Carpio, who had identified herself as an employee of a BDO Unibank branch in Cavite province.
The bank documents and certification that Arellano issued on March 17, 2020, turned out to be spurious after BPI conducted its own investigation of the incident, according to the NBI.
The NBI said that banks were closed at that time, just a few days after Mr. Duterte had placed the entire Luzon island on lockdown due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, and the issuance of a certification was impossible.
It said the respondents needed the fake bank documents to have a “semblance of legality and regularity in the illegal and fraudulent transactions intentionally undertaken by them.”
The Office of the Prosecutor General (OPG) said it had already assigned a team of state prosecutors to conduct the preliminary investigation of the case.
It said other criminal complaints related to the incident would be consolidated and handled by the same government prosecutors.
The Philippines’ involvement in the Wirecard fraud was not limited to the spurious bank documents. The German firm’s Marsalek was also recorded as entering the country on June 23, 2020, then leaving for China a day later, around the time the news of the scandal broke.
Marsalek, who was also supervising Wirecard’s operations in Southeast Asia, appeared to have arrived in the Philippines on March 3 and left via Qatar Airways on March 5, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, citing immigration records.
However, while there were records showing that Marsalek returned in June, the NBI’s International Airport Investigation Division said the documents covering the June trip were faked and meant to divert pursuing German authorities.
The OPG said it had already recommended the criminal prosecution of immigration officers Perry Michael Pancho and Marcus Nicodemus for tampering with the travel records of Marsalek.
The OPG said Pancho and Nicodemus unlawfully accessed the records of the Bureau of Immigration to make it appear that Marsalek arrived in the country in June last year to mislead German authorities as to his whereabouts. —With a report from Inquirer Research
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