Senators lambaste AMLC for slow action on money laundering cases

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Senator Richard Gordon on Thursday has described   as “bureaucracy at its worst form” the failure of the  Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to act swiftly on money laundering cases, and that could eventually lead to corruption.

During the  resumption of the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) operations, Gordon questioned  the  ALMC for its failure to act fast on the Bureau of Customs’ (BoC) report that a certain individual was caught for non-declaration of US$700,000 in cash in 2019.

Gordon berated ALMC officials and told them that since they were already notified by the BoC, they should have known it and acted on it immediately as it can be a case of money laundering.

Gordon said AMLC should  have checked right away where the money came from and where will the funds be used.

“You have intelligence. Ang Customs, nahuli na. Nagastos na iyong pera. That means, there’s a problem on your bureaucracy. That’s bureaucracy at its worst form,” Gordon said.

In defending their acts,  AMLC Executive Director Mel Racela said  they cannot immediately declare that the funds are money laundered as they have to “assume good faith” based on the reasons cited for carrying huge amount like travel, casino, business, and investments, among others.

Gordon rejected Racela’s reasoning and pointed out that   AMLC’s failure to act fast could lead to corruption.

“You defeat the purpose of the law. Don’t you think AMLC has to correct this? Once they cannot establish provenance of the money, that’s money laundering,” he said.

Gordon and Senate Minority Leader Franklin are questioning why large amounts of money were  suspiciously brought into the country by 60 individuals, mostly POGO workers,  which was pegged at $633 million or over P32 billion in cash from September 2019 to March this year.

Gordon thinks  it is likely that President Rodrigo Duterte was not properly informed about what he described as the “creeping invasion” of POGOS in the Philippines who have been engaged in various nefarious activities.

The two senators both cited the adverse impact of POGOs in various sectors and aspects of the country.

However,   Lawyer Victor Padilla, Senior Manager, Anti-Money Laundering Complaint Department  of PAGCOR, which regulates POGO operations, said they are addressing all the negative effects of POGO in the country, where Drilon had commented, “Good luck.”

Asked by Drilon why Chinese POGOs are allowed to operate in the Philippines when they were  banned in China, Padilla answered  that all players come from  China.

“If it is reported to us that a player is coming from China, and China says we should close the company, we will close the company,” said Padilla.

Drilon earlier questioned Padilla how PAGCOR  addressed reports  that more than  100 POGOs out of the 240 have been illegally operating in subdivisions.

In the same hearing, Racela  further said the Philippines’ Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) flagged some P54 billion in “suspicious transactions” within a two-year period (2017-2019j in connection with offshore gaming operations in the country,

Based on the  findings of AMLC’s risk assessment report on POGO, among the alleged dubious transactions are drug trafficking, fraud, and violations of the country’s electronic commerce law.

“There is no sense in continuing this POGO operations licensing,” said Drilon, citing “social problems” triggered by the industry

“It’s not worth what we see as (its) adverse effects on our society,” added Drilon.

Drilon criticized the government’s gambling regulators for focusing on revenues from the POGO industry, saying it “indicates the kind of mindset we have.”

One alleged syndicate he identified as the Rodriguez family had a total transaction of $283 million from July 2019 to March 2020.

He pointed out that the POGO industry, which targets Chinese citizens, employs thousands of Chinese nationals, some of them illegally, amid Beijing’s declaration of any form of gambling as unlawful.

Meanwhile, Gordon  said  there are at least 4 alleged syndicates, including the Rodriguez family, whose multimillion-dollar transactions were presented during the hearing.  He said the Rodriguez family brought in a total of $283 million from July 2019 to March 2020.

He said a certain Elizabeth Rodriguez brought in a total of $42 million from 58 transactions.

“What’s happening here is scary, and it appears there really is a syndicate,” said Gordon as he also presented a  video prepared by residents of Multinational Village in Paranaque City, showing how the influx of Chinese nationals was taking its toll on their village.

The residents complained of poor sanitation, a firing range, and 100 to 200 Chinese allegedly staying in one house. One of them also cited power outages because of the increase in load limit.

The Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas   is currently investigating at least two  money service businesses due to irregularities based on the recommendation of AMLC Anti-Money Deputy Governor Chuchi Fonacier./Stacy Ang

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