RCBC officials repeatedly invoke bank secrecy law; senators lose cool
Senators lost their cool on Tuesday when officials of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) repeatedly invoked the bank secrecy law during a Senate investigation on the alleged laundering of $81 million stolen from the Bank of Bangladesh (BB).
“What are you hiding?” an exasperated Senator Teofisto Guignona III asked after three bank officials invoked their rights against self-incrimination during the hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee, which he chairs.
“They have to protect the fake holders,” Senator Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III, chairman of the Senate committee on banks, said in jest.
It was Maia Santos-Deguito, manager of RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City, who first invoked her right against self-information when Guingona asked her about the accounts of four depositors in her branch, who allegedly received the stolen funds from BB.
RCBC president and chief executive officer Lorenzo Tan and the head of the bank’s Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) Laurinda Rogero also used the same invocation during Guingona and Osmeña’s questioning.
Tan invoked this right when Guingona asked him about the alleged fake identification used by the depositors to open their bank accounts.
“I apologize, your honor, I can’t talk specifically about this case because of bank secrecy [law] but I assure you that an investigation is going on in our bank to determine the actual facts that happened,” the RCBC president said.
“But what I’m saying here is you can’t invoke bank secrecy here because the account holder, the real owner of the funds, is not invoking bank secrecy [law],” Guingona said.
“I was advised by counsel, your honor, to refrain from talking about bank accounts and specific transactions, I apologize, I understand there was an actual case where a foreign bank was used for discussing bank account in a hearing like this,” Tan said.
“Mr. Tan, I’m just asking [about] your bank account procedures, I’m not asking about an account. What are the…” Guingona again said.
And when the bank official tried to pass the microphone to his counsel, an irate Guingona interrupted him: “No! You answer it Mr. Tan, you’re the president.
Rogero also invoked the bank secrecy law when Osmeña asked what time she received the stop payment request from New York.
“I’d apologize right now that I will still invoke the… However, I will provide you the process that the bank has…”
“You will invoke what?” asked Osmeña, to which Rogero answered: “Bank secrecy law.”
Rogero explained that she was invoking the said law because Osmeña’s question pertains to deposits or bank accounts.
“But if the owner of the funds does not object to giving you information about his funds, remember I’m talking about the Bangladesh funds, what is your objection to that?” the senator asked again.
“You know, I really apologize, the determination of the ownership as well as whether or not there was fraud committed has not yet been established your honor,” Rogero said.
She then pointed a report that the US federal government was allegedly denying that the funds were hacked.
And if the money were not hacked, Rogero said, then there was no case of money laundering.
At this point, Guingona butt in and castigated the bank official.
“What are we talking about? You’re bordering on the ridiculous here,” he said, noting that no less than the BB officials have claimed that their funds were stolen by the hackers. RAM
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