Kim Wong likely brains behind heist–Serge Osmeña
Businessman Kim Wong appears to be the mastermind of the laundering through the Philippine financial system of $81 million stolen from the Bangladesh central bank, according to Sen. Serge Osmeña.
Maia Santos-Deguito, manager of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch on Jupiter Street, Makati City, is not the most guilty party in the caper, said Osmeña, who described Deguito as a credible witness after she faced the senators in a closed session on Thursday.
It was Wong who asked Deguito to open the bank accounts where the $81 million was wired, and who instructed her to use the services of foreign exchange remittance company Philrem Services Inc., Osmeña said.
Wong will be given the chance to explain his role when he faces the Senate blue ribbon committee, which is investigating the laundering of the money stolen by Chinese computer hackers from Bangladesh Bank’s account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York through RCBC and the country’s casinos, he said.
“There is an orchestrator here, a mastermind and right now, it looks like it’s Kim Wong, but we have to give him a chance and let him come back from his trip abroad to testify before the committee,” he told reporters in an interview on Friday.
“He’s a big player in this. He’s a missing link,” he later added.
Wong is undergoing medical treatment abroad, according to his lawyer.
Asked why Deguito allowed Wong’s requests, Osmeña said the two knew each other.
According to him, Wong requested Deguito to open five dollar accounts, providing the information sheets and introducing the account holders to her during a meeting at Midas Hotel.
Deguito checked their IDs and later she was sent $2,500 by messenger for the dollar accounts, Osmeña said.
Only four of the five accounts were used to receive the $81 million. The fifth account, under the name Picache, was not used, he said.
But when the Senate sergeant at arms looked for the four account holders at their given addresses to serve summons on them to appear at the blue ribbon committee hearing, the addresses turned out to be fictitious, he said.
Once the $81 million was in the RCBC accounts, Wong instructed Deguito to use Philrem to remit the funds to other accounts. Wong knows Philrem, Osmeña said.
He said Deguito also insisted that she did not benefit from the transaction, and that the P20 million withdrawn from the account of William Go, allegedly part of the $81 million, was delivered to the businessman.
Meanwhile, there are also two more RCBC officials who could be involved in the operation, as mentioned by Deguito during her testimony at the closed session, Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said Thursday.
Guingona said there was clearly more than one person involved in the caper.
“It has to be a syndicate. It’s obvious this is a syndicate. One person alone could not do this,” he said.
Deguito also told the senators that the dollar deposits did not go directly to the RCBC Jupiter branch. They first passed through the bank’s treasury then sent through settlements before being transferred to the Jupiter branch, Osmeña said.
He said he could not as yet conclude how high up the operation went. He said later that the Senate was not out to nail any RCBC officer, but just wanted to get the whole story.
“It’s a complicated story. We’ll see where this will lead to,” he added.
Asked to describe Deguito in the closed session, Osmeña said she appeared credible and was quite calm.
She narrated her story and answered all the questions, he said.
“She said she was under threat but at the same time she also said, ‘I don’t care what happens to me,’” he said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday summoned Deguito to appear at its own investigation of the operation.
In a subpoena issued Friday, Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamarra ordered Deguito to appear at preliminary hearings on April 12 and 19, during which the DOJ will determine whether there is probable cause to bring charges against her.
Also on Friday, Sen. Francis Escudero, a vice presidential candidate in May’s national elections, said it was too early to put Deguito in the government’s witness protection program, as proposed by some senators.
“We still don’t know the extent of her participation and knowledge of the scam. She has to promise to tell the truth because if not, she will not be eligible [for government protection],” Escudero told reporters in Bacolod City.
Senatorial candidate Toots Ople said she would ask the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Securities and Exchange Commission to suspend the operations of Philrem until it has fully explained its role in the laundering of the Bangladesh money.
Ople, head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said Philrem’s role in moving the stolen money could lead to a crackdown on legitimate remittance centers for Filipino migrant workers.
She noted that Philrem handles not only funds for casino junket operators but also migrant workers’ remittances. With reports from Tarra Quismundo and Gil Cabacungan
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