Ex-bank manager guilty of money laundering

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Ex-bank manager guilty of money laundering

MANILA, Philippines — A Makati City court yesterday convicted a former bank branch manager of money laundering for her role in one of the biggest cyber-heists in history involving $81 million belonging to the Bangladesh government.

In a 26-page decision, Judge Cesar Untalan of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 149 sentenced Maia Santos-Deguito to prison terms of up to 56 years, or four to seven years for each of the eight counts of money laundering.

The court also ordered her to pay $109 million in fines. But the court allowed her to remain free on bail as her lawyer prepares to appeal her conviction.

Bangladesh Ambassador Asad Alam Siam, who was present during the promulgation, said his government  was considering its next step. He expressed hope the cases filed with the Department of Justice by the Anti-Money Laundering Council against six other officials of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) would be expedited.

As manager of RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City, Deguito was found guilty of allowing the transfer of $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank to multiple accounts under fictitious names in February 2016. The amount would have reached $1 billion had the US Federal Reserve not alerted the bank of the questionable fund transfer.

The court said Deguito “must be criminally liable” for violating the Anti-Money Laundering Act as she had knowingly facilitated the illegal bank transactions.

She was found to have consolidated the money into a single US dollar account under the name of Filipino-Chinese businessman William Go. The funds were withdrawn, converted into pesos and transferred to at least three casinos in Manila.

In one of her court appearances, Deguito claimed the transaction was made upon instructions from bank higher-ups. But Untalan argued that she should have protected herself from certain liability by inquiring about the source of the remittances.

“Her declaration in open court that she has nothing to do with these transactions was a complete and comprehensive lie,” Untalan declared.

The judge said Deguito, with her 16 years of experience in the banking industry, should be familiar with the maximum requirement of P500,000 per transaction.

“A normal mind and a banker of the caliber of the accused Deguito, if indeed not guilty of committing the violation of the AMLA law, should have and must have inquired (about) the legality of the origin of these remittances,” Untalan said. 

“However, as the saying goes: action speaks louder than words. Accused Deguito, indeed, facilitated these transactions to their full and complete implementation without any sign of hesitation,” Untalan said.

“Accused Deguito took a few minutes to do, execute and implement these huge and million United States dollars transactions,” he said. 

“The defense that accused Deguito has no authority to hold these deposits coming from and sourced from foreign remittances is quite unbelievable, to say the least. Benchmark of the law for its violation is only P500,000. These remittances were in United States dollars and in million amounts,” he added.

Untalan said he is convinced that Deguito did not only facilitate the illegal bank transactions, but also “coordinated and corroborated” the execution and implementation of the illegal transactions.  

‘Momentary setback’

Deguito’s lawyer Demetrio Custodio said the court’s decision was “just a momentary setback” and that his client should be allowed temporary liberty, as there are still legal remedies available – including the filing of a motion for reconsideration – that could reverse the court decision.

“We have very good grounds to file a motion for reconsideration. We would like to point out early that this case will follow a very long process. This is just a momentary setback insofar as Ms. Deguito is concerned,” Custodio told reporters.

He said Untalan himself had noted that the bond would only expire upon the finality of the decision.

Custodio said he remains confident that Deguito would not be put behind bars.

As far as the fine is concerned, he said that Deguito would not be forced to turn over the amount as the money was credited to the account of Go.

“My client will not be forced to turn over those amounts. The judge noted that the prosecution failed to prove that the amounts ended up in Maia’s account and therefore, she’s not liable to turn over those amounts,” he said, referring to the fines imposed by the court.

He also emphasized that “there is no forfeiture” of money as the alleged amounts involved had not been subject to court jurisdiction and that Go was not made party to the case.