The Business Times

Network of 19 gamblers to be focus of Philippine heist hearing

Published Mon, Apr 4, 2016 · 11:48 PM
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[MANILA] How a network of 19 people gambled US$30 million of the US$81 million stolen from Bangladesh's foreign reserves at a Manila casino will be a major focus for Philippine lawmakers when a Senate hearing into the heist resumes on Tuesday.

The players gambled for five weeks under two foreign junket operators at Solaire Resort & Casino, which is owned and operated by Bloomberry Resorts Corp, according to reports submitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee and gaming regulator seen by Bloomberg News.

Silverio Benny J Tan, compliance officer at Bloomberry, said in the reports casinos were made "a scapegoat in this unfortunate affair."

"The casinos seem to be washing their hands of this mess," said Benito Lim, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University.

"They're depicting themselves as victims. But the government must plug the law's loopholes by including casinos in the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act."

In one of the largest bank heists in modern history, the thieves hacked into the Bangladesh Bank's account at the US Federal Reserve, routed the funds to Philippine bank accounts and then laundered the money in at least two local casinos. A further US$20 million that the hackers managed to transfer to a Sri Lankan bank was recovered. The Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council said it wants Congress to include casinos on the list of institutions required to report suspicious transactions.

Frozen Funds At the Philippine casino, the entire 1.37 billion pesos (S$40.6 million) was used to buy premium non-negotiable chips, the reports showed. Solaire stopped the gamblers on March 10 after five weeks, and froze 107.4 million pesos remaining from six people, according to the document. Another 1.35 million pesos in cash was also confiscated. Bloomberry's Mr Tan didn't return calls to his office seeking comment.

Another focus of the hearings will be local remittance company Philrem Service Corp, which has said it either wired or physically delivered bundles of stolen cash to the casinos and their junket operators in February. Philrem's President Salud Bautista said she didn't know the funds were the fruits of a crime.

"We've already answered that allegation at the Senate hearing," Philrem lawyer Howard Calleja said by telephone, referring to Ms Bautista's denial last week that the company had pocketed as much as US$18 million of the stolen funds.

Kim Wong, the Philippine gambling junket operator dubbed the "missing link" in the case, told the Senate hearing last week that he was willing to return as much as US$14.3 million he received from two Chinese nationals linked to the stolen funds. He returned US$4.6 million on Thursday and another 38 million pesos on Monday.


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