THE court has spoken: The Yuchengco family’s Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., as a spokesman for the bank said, was also a victim in the spectacular $81 million cyber heist that diverted funds from the Bangladesh Central Bank to accounts in this country in 2016.
The decision of the Makati court on the case that broke three years ago proved that the manager of the RCBC branch where the funds ended up, Maia Deguito, was a “rogue employee” who acted alone, the bank said.
But did Deguito really go rogue and act without the knowledge of her superiors in the bank?
More importantly, will the Bangladesh Central Bank ever be able to recover the money it lost to what appears like a syndicate of computer hackers who acted in concert internationally in order to steal its money? Of the $81 million that ended up in the Philippines from Bangladesh through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only $15 million has been recovered this late.
In the Philippines, it appears that the cyber theft syndicate involved several big names in the money laundering and electronic gaming industries. These personalities, like former jueteng lord Atong Ang, all appeared during subsequent official investigations after the discovery of the high-tech robbery.
But only Deguito was found guilty of involvement with the syndicate that apparently has connections not only in New York and Manila but also in Bangladesh itself, where the money originated. In other words, even those believed to have pulled off what was also an “inside job” could very well go scot free.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) has admitted that Deguito’s conviction would contribute “only indirectly” to efforts to recover the stolen funds from Bangladesh. “Since a conviction is a criminal proceeding that is entirely separate from recovery efforts, Deguito’s conviction only helps the retrieval indirectly by bolstering the civil forfeiture cases through which recovery efforts are coursed,” the council said.
That’s bank talk, meaning, that while Deguito may have been convicted, there is little hope that she is holding the missing money, either. That’s because right now, according to AMLC, no one really knows where the money is — or if those who eventually ended up with the Bangladesh funds will ever be identified and the missing money recovered.
As for RCBC, it’s true in a sense that it was also a victim in this crime. After all, it has been fined P1 billion by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for its failure to monitor and to institute controls that could have avoided the use of a mere bank branch in Makati for the opening of fictitious accounts that were used to receive the millions that the New York Fed was unable to prevent from being transferred to the Philippines.
Actually, the whole Philippine banking industry took a hit in the wake of the Bangladesh cyberheist, which did nothing to improve our reputation as a repository and transfer station of “laundered” funds from all over the world. We can only hope that a scam of this magnitude, which rocked local banks to their foundations, doesn’t happen again.
And in the event that it does, perhaps the authorities will be able to identify and punish perpetrators beyond the rank of bank branch manager.
* * *
There’s probably nothing more embarrassing than taking a chopper like a Master of the Universe to where you’re going but having a weak bladder that forces you to land in an unauthorized space with a crowd in attendance. Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino learned this firsthand after reports said he had to make an unscheduled landing in his chopper at the PhilSports arena in Pasig City, disrupting an ongoing athletic competition early this week.
As is usual these days, the incident was duly recorded on video and uploaded on social media, much to Dino’s regret. The presidential adviser himself did not comment on the issue, but presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo took up the cudgels for the embattled adviser, blaming the chopper pilot instead for the unscheduled pit stop.
“That’s the fault of the pilot, not the passenger,” Panelo said at a Malacañang news conference. “He landed there while there was an ongoing game.”
“The pilot should have first asked permission asking if he can go anywhere. He should have asked the control tower for clearance if he could take off and land where he did. It’s the pilot’s mistake and he could be held liable,” Panelo said.
Panelo said Dino could only be held responsible if he knew that there was an ongoing sporting event that the unscheduled landing and take-off would be disrupting. “Kung alam niya na mayroong game, mali siya as an official pero kung hindi naman niya alam, kung pasahero ka lang like when you ride an airplane, like me, I sleep kaagad [upon boarding], malay ko na ano nangyayari doon,” the Palace official said.
So, according to Panelo, it’s once again a case of pilot error, even if it was Dino who was having a bathroom emergency and who, in all likelihood, ordered the pilot to land as soon as he found an open enough space so that he could relieve himself. It’s not really a big deal, but I know that Dino, for the rest of his life, will remember to evacuate his bladder before embarking on a helicopter trip.
Damn those camera phones.