Ex-DOF head: FBI, other bodies should probe $81-M bank heist
MANILA, Philippines – The investigation into the $81-million Bangladesh bank heist "is much better conducted" by other investigative bodies rather than the Senate, former finance secretary Roberto De Ocampo said on Tuesday, April 5.
De Ocampo, chairman of the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB), stressed that these bodies – the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Interpol – should be able to aid the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) since they are more knowledgeable about the processes involved.
“This is not the kind of thing where you can get the truth out by means of a Senate public investigation,” he said in an interview with Rappler editor at large Marites Vitug. “(Other investigative bodies) understand the processes and where they might have been subverted.”
Bangladesh, on March 19, reportedly formally sought the help of the FBI in tracking down details of hackers who stole roughly $101 million (P4.7 billion)* from the account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
At least $81 million (P3.8 billion) was wired to the Philippine-based bank accounts, converted to pesos, and eventually delivered to casinos. (TIMELINE: Tracing the $81-million stolen fund from Bangladesh Bank)
The Senate blue ribbon committee has, so far, conducted 4 public hearings on the issue. Various statements have been issued and names have been floated in relation to the money-laundering operations. (READ: Network: Who's who in the RCBC money-laundering scam)
Key witnesses and resource persons, however, continue to "stonewall and hide behind the laws." (READ: Bangladesh envoy dismayed, witnesses stonewalled at 4th Senate probe)
Instead of substantive narratives that could aid the probe, De Ocampo observed that placing the witnesses in the same room with the cameras led to them “proclaiming innocence” without actually zooming into what really took place.
“Whenever they go into executive sessions, they manage to get more truth out of the witnesses,” he said. “What has it resulted from (the public hearings) so far? Their innocence, that they're victims.”
The liabilities of those involved – such Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), PhilRem Service Corporation, and the circle of casino junket operators – would be clearer if investigative bodies got involved, Ocampo stressed.
“This can only happen through a 007-type of investigation, you have to also call in the Interpol because it's an international thing,” he said. “So I think the BSP and proper investigative bodies internationally should look into this.”
De Ocampo said the “very public” proceedings on one of the biggest money-laundering scandals to ever hit the Philippines in recent history may lead to “unfair” conclusions about the country’s banking industry – more importantly the remittance business where many overseas Filipino workers (OFW) rely on.
According to the Department of Finance, the more foreign banks close accounts of money transfer operators, the cost of remitting money will double. (READ: DOF fears closure of remittance shops abroad amid $81M heist)
“This may lead global observers to the impression that the banking system in the Philippines is primitive and that the remittance business is something to watch more closely,” he stressed. “But that is a wrong conclusion since the banking system in the country is among the better ones in this region.”
He said that it is important the public understand the bank heist and money-laundering scandal do not affect the banking industry and the remittance system in the country.
“This is an operation that is extremely sophisticated and (the amount) is too little compared with the remittances of OFWs which are relatively in small amounts and are carried out as a matter of course, not as a matter of special operations of nasty people,” De Ocampo said.
The entire probe, however, will be a “good lesson learned” for Congress when it comes to investigating matters of similar kind. The legislators, he said, “can show the world that they can act fast and strengthen” the law.
“This is a good lesson learned for our legislators to be able to get to the root of the temptation of the operations rather than concentrating their fire on the banking system,” De Ocampo said. “The root of temptation is casinos, therefore, it would be proper that in the course of investigation, our lawmakers show the world that they can act fast and strengthen the anti-money laundering law.” – Rappler.com
Listen to the full interview: PODCAST: Money-laundering calls for an '007-type' of probe
Read more on the Bangladesh bank heist and money-laundering scam: