By Rey Panaligan
Former Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos Deguito has asked the Makati City regional trial court (RTC) to reconsider its decision that convicted her of seven counts of money laundering in connection with the $81-million cyber heist in Bangladesh Bank in 2016.
In her motion, Deguito said that Judge Cesar Untalan misappreciated the facts and evidence presented in her case and wrongfully convicted her of money laundering.
She said that Section 4 (f) of Republic Act No. 9140, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, provides that “money laundering is committed by any person who, knowing that any monetary instrument or property represents, involves, or relates to the proceeds of any unlawful activity … performs or fails to perform any act as a result of which he facilitates the offense of money laundering….”
However, Deguito said none of the elements of money laundering was present in the case filed against her.
She pointed out that when the trial court held that she should be made criminally liable for violation of the RA 9140, it could be referring to accounts which were opened in the names of Michael Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosa, Alfred Vergara and Enrico Vasquez in 2015.
But she said that there was no monetary instrument or property and no proceeds of any against her, and the trial court even admitted that from 2015 when the accounts were opened there was no transaction that was entered and recorded in the said bank accounts.
She said: “Without the existence of an unlawful activity, its proceeds, and a monetary instrument or property that represents, involves, or relates to such proceeds, then there can be no knowledge of these facts as well. Clearly, no money laundering offense committed when the accounts were opened in May 2015.”
At the same time, Deguito contested the court’s findings that she had full and prior knowledge of the illegal source of funds.
“This conclusion, however, was not based on direct proof of the element of knowledge, as the prosecution failed to present any. Instead, it was only presumed by the Honorable Court from the alleged failure of accused to do what the Honorable Court believes she should have done,” she said in her motion,
She insisted she had no authority to stop the withdrawal of the huge amounts.
“Another reason why accused could not have stopped the transactions was because RCBC higher-ups actually put a hold on the transactions, but then lifted the hold after determining that the remittances were valid,” she explained.
Earlier, Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon had said that the money laundering charges against six officers of the RCBC are still pending with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
This means that the $81-million cyber heist in Bangladesh Bank in 2016 is not yet closed despite the conviction of Deguito.
Fadullon said the complaint filed by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in November 2016 against former RCBC treasurer Raul Victor Tan, national sales director for retail banking Ismael Reyes, regional sales director for retail banking Brigitte Capiña, direct sales director Nestor Pineda, customer service head for Jupiter business center Romualdo Agarrado, and senior customer relations officer for Jupiter business center Angela Ruth Torres has not been resolved by the DOJ.
“There is no resolution yet from the preliminary investigation earlier conducted on that case,” he said in a text message.
Tan resigned in April 2016 “out of decency and honor,” while Torres was dismissed after she and Deguito were found by the RCBC to have been involved in the money laundering scheme.
Earlier, Bangladesh Ambassador Asad Alam Siam had called on the DOJ to now resolve the charges against other RCBC officers as he revealed that their government also plans to file a lawsuit in New York against executives of RCBC.
Tan and the five other RCBC officers were charged with violation of Section 4(f) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
The complaint alleged that “in consequence of his failure to order enhanced due diligence on the high-risk accounts and to continue the hold on the beneficiary accounts, Tan facilitated the commission of money laundering under Section 4(f) of the AMLA, as amended.”
Charges have also been filed against casino junket operators Kim Wong and Weikang Xu, Michael and Salud Bautista of money transfer firm Philrem, and money laundering compliance officer Anthony Pelejo. However, the DOJ dismissed the charges for lack of basis.