CA affirms conviction of ex-RCBC exec in $81-M Bangladesh bank heist
The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed the conviction of a former bank manager found guilty of money laundering in connection with the $81 million stolen by hackers from Bangladesh’s central bank in 2016.
In a 58-page ruling, the court’s First Division dismissed the appeal of Maia Deguito, former branch manager at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), to reverse her conviction.
The CA upheld the decision dated Jan. 10, 2019, and the resolution dated Sept. 20, 2019, of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 149 finding Deguito guilty of eight counts of violating Section 4 (f) of Republic Act No. 9160, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act (Amla).
The Makati RTC had sentenced her to four to seven years imprisonment for each of the eight counts of money laundering more than a year after she was indicted by state prosecutors. She was also required to pay not more than 200 percent of the value of the laundered amount.
“[T]here is no doubt that the prosecution was able to prove that Deguito is guilty of eight counts of violation of Section 4 (f) of RA No. 9160, as amended. Thus, the court finds no need to further discuss the other issues raised by the parties,” the CA said in a decision promulgated on Feb. 6 but was made public only on Wednesday.
In September 2017, Deguito was left to face trial alone for the cyberheist after the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped the complaints against all her coaccused.
Deguito was the manager of RCBC’s Jupiter Street branch in Makati City, which held the fake bank accounts where the stolen money from the Bangladesh central bank was deposited.
In its ruling, the CA said that all the elements of the offense were present in the case of Deguito.
The former bank officer attempted to downplay her role in the case by saying she had no knowledge of any illegal activities when she opened the Jupiter accounts on May 15, 2016.
“Such argument fails to convince considering that Deguito was the business manager of RCBC Jupiter, and not just a mere employee. It was actually the opening of the Jupiter accounts that set the wheels in motion,” the CA said.
“With Deguito’s 16 years of experience in the banking industry, she cannot feign ignorance of the basic provisions of the Amla and RCBC’s Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Program (MTPP),” the court pointed out.
Deguito also claimed that the lower court erred in ruling that she had “full and prior” knowledge of the illegal source of the funds, but the appellate court explained that the element of knowledge in the Amla may be established through direct or circumstantial evidence.
“[T]he court is convinced that the circumstances established in this case form an unbroken chain leading to one fair reasonable conclusion—that as far back as the opening of the Jupiter accounts, Deguito had knowledge that the Jupiter accounts were opened solely for the purpose of receiving proceeds derived from an unlawful activity,” the CA said.
“Being the ‘overall head’ and ‘control officer’ of RCBC Jupiter, Deguito cannot feign ignorance of the blatant irregularities in the inward remittances credited to the Jupiter accounts, and pretend as if her hands were tied that she cannot do anything to rectify them,” the court noted.
Further, the appellate court said Deguito “actually performed significant acts to arrive at the intended conclusion, which is the movement of funds derived from the hacking incident.”
“She allowed the opening of the Jupiter accounts based on identification documents that were verified to be fictitious. She did not personally witness the alleged clients in filling out the forms…, violating the face-to-face policy of the Amla regulations,” the CA said.
The court also noted that Deguito allowed and facilitated the rush withdrawals of the money remitted to the Jupiter accounts despite the nonappearance of the supposed account holders and knowing that the money was stolen from Bangladesh Bank “as there was already a request for stop payment.”