THE Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has flagged some P14 billion worth of transactions related to suspicious financial activities in the country for the past two years.
AMLC Executive Director Mel Georgie Racela told senators on Thursday the transactions happened from January 2017 to October 2019.
Racela was a resource person at the Senate blue ribbon committee hearing on the entry of millions of dollars to the country, which senators suspect could be dirty money being laundered in the country mostly by Chinese.
Of the alleged illegal activities, Racela said 200 violations for the E-Commerce Act of 2000 were reported with an estimated worth of P4.9 billion, six suspicious activities for drug trafficking but the amount was not specified, 565 confidential reports received for no underlying or legal trade obligation worth around P4 billion, deviation from the client’s profile with 34 confidential reports amounting to P2.4 million, 363 confidential reports worth some P2.2 billion for “amount involved is not commensurate in the financial capacity of the client,” when the client is not properly identified with 36 reports involving P231 million, and nine reports of fraud with an estimated worth of P121M.
Racela said the information were included in the AMLC’s Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) Risk Report, copies of which were presented to the Senate blue ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Richard Gordon.
He said the AMLC monitored the entry of foreign currencies amounting to more than $336 million last year, ranging from the amounts of $200,000 to $900,000, including Y2 million, and HK$215 million.
The top five reasons given by couriers of the cash, he said, included for business purposes, foreign exchange, savings, salary, and for casino gambling.
Gordon told Racela the information relayed to him showed that the amount of money which entered the country from September last year to March this year has already reached $633 million, or roughly P32 billion, in 890 transactions brought in by 60 individuals.
In the last five days of the week alone, Gordon said some $6 million or P310.16 million entered the country from Bangkok, Thailand; and Singapore.
Last Tuesday, Gordon said in a privilege speech that the amount of money smuggled in the country was at $447 million.
Gordon said the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has informed the AMLC of the entry of large amounts of money on October last year, to which Racela said AMLC started its investigation into the suspicious transaction as early as March 2019.
Racela said the AMLC was slow in its investigation because they were still gathering more evidence against the individuals involved.
“The key to success is proper investigation. The key to proper investigation is intelligence gathering/sharing. It’s an ongoing project,’ Racela said, adding that they cannot make immediate arrests because amounts were duly declared by the carriers.
Gordon said the declaration of the money cannot be considered as totally legal and that AMLC should have at least investigated the couriers.
“The unabated entry of millions of dollars, wouldn’t that be suspicious sir? Di ba dapat alamin niyo kung saan napunta ang pera, would it be the right thing to do? Pumasok ba ‘yan sa casino, pumasok ba sa Maute, sa bangko? Di ba dapat ganon? (Isn’t it that you [AMLC] should have found out where the money went? Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do?
Were the money brought to casinos? Did they reach the [terrorist] Maute Group, were they deposited in banks? That’s the way it should be),” he added.
Gordon said the BOC or AMLC should have confiscated the money and let its owner or carrier file charges.
FILIPINOS, CHINESE COURIERS NAMED
During the hearing, Gordon identified the Filipinos and Chinese who sneaked in the cash from September 2019 to March this year.
Based on information, he identified the Filipinos as Al-Basheer Gatpandan bringing in $3.5 million, Emarithez Morales with two transactions worth US$4.92 million, Jessica Morales, Edizon Morales, Angelyne Chua, Eduardo Gloria, Robert Narag with their companion Bernard Alfred Mindermann with five transactions worth $3.65 million; Kevin Lester Dizon with three transactions worth $2.25 million, and Simon John Rodriguez with four transactions worth $2.9 million.
John Joshua Rodriguez with 40 transaction worth $32.6 million; Natasha Rodriguez with 15 transaction valued at US$11.2 million; Elizabeth Rodriguez with 45 transactions worth $34.6 million, and Janet Rodriguez had 28 transactions valued $20 million; Mary Rose Rodriguez one transaction worth $700,000; Michael Julian Rodriguez and Michael Julian Rodriguez Calderon with 10 transactions worth $7.6 million; Jonathan Embana had three transactions valued at $2.25 million; Romulo Cadelina with two transactions worth $1.4 million; Arnaldo Paulo Hababag two transactions worth $1.65 million; and Emil Alfonso with two transaction valued at $1.7 million, among others.
Gordon likewise sought an investigation into the activities of Excellent Forex Corporation, pointing out that the name of the foreign exchange firm came up during the BOC as among those which was used by the Rodriguezes to bring in some $2.5 million.
He said the foreign exchange business has a branch in Marawi City and it is not far-fetched it has connections with the Maute Group.
Gordon said one of the Rodriguezes was earlier arrested by the BOC while carrying $700,000 but was later released.
He said two Rodriguezes who were identified as part of the group attempted to sneak in HK$13 million and $700,000 Wednesday night but were apprehended. He did not give their first names.
The seven Rodriguezes (Mary Rose, Janet, John Joshua, Michael Julian, Simon John, Natasha, and Elizabeth) identified in the group were given subpoenas to attend the yesterday’s hearing but the subpoena were brought to the wrong address.
The Rodriguez family got the subpoena while the hearing was already ongoing.
They were issued another subpoena to compel them to attend the hearing set on Monday next week or else Gordon said he will have them arrested.
Gordon said the committee has yet to establish where the large amounts of cash came from and where these were spent or used once brought into the country since the Rodriguez family was not around to shed light on the matter.
Gordon said that based on initial reports that the committee gathered, the Rodriguez family is part of a pyramiding network that sells beauty products in the country.
He suspects that the Rodriguez family is being used as “mules” by Chinese syndicates but did not elaborate.
DRILON SLAMS PAGCOR
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon slammed the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for pushing for the continued operation of POGO hubs in the country just to keep the P8 billion it collects from fees and licenses from the industry.
“For P8 billion that you get from fees, you are saying that they should be here? That statement, I must say, is a stupid statement. Basta may pera na pumasok (Just as long as we earn money), all these evil things we tolerate. I am disappointed at the statement today of Pagcor, saying that we are in favor of POGOs continuing its operation because of the income earned. That is a shortsighted statement,” Drilon said.
Pagcor said that it collects P8 billion from fees and licenses from POGOs, which is just 0.029 percent of the economy.
The Pagcor admitted that there are about 120 non-licensed POGOs illegally operating in the country. AMLC on the other hand reported that in 2019 alone, 200 internet-based POGOs illegally serviced online gaming operations.
“Is it worth all these problems that we face? The P8 billion income generated by Pagcor from POGOs is nothing compared to the social problems brought about by POGOs,” Drilon said, adding: “All these things happened since POGOs came into our shores. What benefits are we taking about? Disgusting is a very mild term to describe your assessment of the POGO operations.”
Drilon said the government has all the reason to ban POGO operations, citing the numerous crimes that have been linked to the industry.
“It is a policy issue. To us, the policy should be to terminate these POGOs because of all these nefarious activities that we see today,” he said.
Citing figures from the risk assessment conducted by the AMLC, Drilon underscored the 63 casino- related kidnapping cases from 2017 to 2019 which victimized Chinese businessmen engaged in online gaming.
The PNP said there are 11 cases of POGO-related homicide cases.
Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the deputy PNP chief for operations, also admitted that prostitution has seen an increase in the past three years due to POGO operations. He said that the PNP had already launched 10 police operations against prostitution dens involving foreign nationals, which resulted in the arrest of 60 suspects, 59 of whom are Chinese citizens.
Sen. Joel Villanueva, for his part, said: “To say that the economic benefits, which is minimal and negligible at best, are justification enough to keep POGOs in Philippine shores is flimsy and myopic. Pagcor, the state gaming regulator, cannot simply shift the blame to other agencies for their shortcomings, particularly tax collection.”
Villanueva said Pagcor should take responsibility for the prevalence of illegally-operating POGOs.
“We remind PAGCOR that it’s their responsibility to ensure the entities they regulate comply with prevailing rules and regulations of our country. They are the regulator of POGOs. They should be responsible for the actions of the companies and individuals they regulate. Just look at the number of estimated illegal POGO firms here. Having about 200 illegal POGOs – even more than the 61 PAGCOR-licensed POGOs – is a clear indication that state gaming regulator cannot handle the regulation of POGOs,” he said.
He stressed: “The writing on the wall is clear for everyone except Pagcor. It is high time that Pagcor act like the state gaming regulator it is chartered.”
NOT ‘SOFT’ ON CHINESE
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo took exemption to Gordon’s statement that Malacañang’s “soft” handling of illegal activities of the Chinese has emboldened nefarious individuals to engage in money laundering.
Panelo maintained that Duterte is not “soft” on the Chinese but only keeps friendly and close ties with China.
He added the President will not be rushed into making a decision on the fate of POGOs in the country. “Let’s not hurry up this President,” he said.
Panelo said the President is judicious and as a lawyer, carefully studies and weighs things before making any decision.
“You know, when the President decides on something, he has the goods to back up his decision. If he has not received a comprehensive report on these illegal practices, then you cannot hurry him up. The President is like that because he is a lawyer. Lawyers like us, need evidence,” he added in mixed Filipino and English.
Panelo said reiterated that the operations of POGOs are under evaluation and it would be up to the President to decide if he would suspend or completely ban the online gaming operations similar to what he did when he decided to suspend lotto and small town lottery operations under Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) last year.
“Well, as I’ve said, any malpractice, any corruption, any irregularity relative to any activity or project in this government is always being investigated. And after the findings, the President will act, as always, decisively,” he added. – With Jocelyn Montemayor