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Philippine banker wants tell-all in closed cyber-heist hearing

[PHILIPPINES] The Philippine bank branch manager in the center of an investigation on US$80.9 million of stolen funds from Bangladesh's foreign reserves wants a tell-all in a closed-door government hearing.

Maia Santos Deguito, the manager at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp branch in the Philippine financial district accused of allowing the withdrawal of the funds, said at the country's Senate hearing Tuesday that she will respond to questions from lawmakers in a closed-door session.

"I would like to invoke my right against self-incrimination," she said repeatedly at the hearing. "I will answer that in an executive session." The missing funds, about the average daily amount overseas Filipinos send home in remittances, has rattled authorities from the Philippines, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka. Bangladesh central bank governor Atiur Rahman submitted his resignation Tuesday as tensions escalate with the finance minister over the stolen funds.

Lorenzo Tan, Rizal Bank's president, invoked the Philippine bank secrecy law when questioned by lawmakers at Tuesday's hearing. Senator Teofisto Guingona, head of committee on anti-money laundering, said US$58 million would have been recovered had Rizal Bank promptly acted on Bangladesh's stop payment request, adding that bank secrecy doesn't apply as the owner of the funds wants to shed light on the matter.

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The Philippine anti-money laundering agency said Deguito allowed the funds to be withdrawn on Feb 5 and 9 despite requests from Bangladesh to stop the transfers.

"At the time she allowed the withdrawals, respondent Deguito already knew that the money was stolen from Bangladesh Bank as there was already a request for stop payment," the council said in a March 11 complaint to the Department of Justice. The branch manager also failed to verify the identities of four other people named in the suit who withdrew the funds and who are believed to be fictitious.

Deguito's lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio, who was with her at the hearing, declined to comment, saying he hasn't seen a copy of the complaint.

Only US$68,305 of the funds remained when Rizal Bank put the accounts on hold, according to the complaint. The complaint was filed at the Department of Justice for investigation. The crime of money laundering is punishable by a maximum jail term of 14 years.