Philippines can recover big chunk of stolen Bangladesh millions: MP

Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) president and chief executive officer Lorenzo Tan gives his statement during a senate hearing in Manila on March 29, 2016.
Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) president and chief executive officer Lorenzo Tan gives his statement during a senate hearing in Manila on March 29, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Almost half of the US$81 million (S$109 million) that hackers stole from Bangladesh and funnelled into Philippine casinos can still be recovered, a senior Filipino lawmaker investigating the audacious cyber heist said Thursday (March 31).

As much as US$34 million remained in two casinos and a foreign exchange brokerage, senator Ralph Recto said, citing testimonies from a marathon hearing on Tuesday.

"Our law enforcement agencies must act swiftly to recover any portion of the loot that is still within Philippine soil," Recto said in a statement.

"It is very important to recover as much of the money and return it to Bangladesh. The money was stolen from a poor country," he added.

On Feb 5, unidentified hackers shifted US$81 million from the Bangladesh central bank's account with the US Federal Reserve to a nondescript bank in Manila and then to the casinos, where the trail went cold.

The brazen heist highlighted how the Philippine's banking loopholes and anti-money laundering laws have made the impoverished and corruption-weary South-east Asian nation a dirty money destination.

Philippine law exempts casino transactions from scrutiny by the country's anti-money laundering council without a case filed in court.

A casino junket operator, Kim Wong, testified in the Senate on Tuesday (March 29) that two high-rollers from Beijing and Macau shifted the US$81 million to dollar accounts in Manila's Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC).

Wong said he did not know that the money was stolen from Bangladesh and that he merely helped the two men - who are also his casino clients - open bank accounts.

He offered to return US$4.3 million of the money, which he said remained in his account in Solaire, one of the Philippine capital's gleaming billion-dollar casinos.

But by Recto's own calculations, far more can be recovered including US$17 million that Wong claimed was still with exchange brokerage Philrem, US$10 million from a destitute casino in the north, US$5.5 million that Wong picked up from the house of Philrem's owner and a further US$2.3 million in the Solaire casino account of the Macau man who allegedly brought the US$81 million to the Philippines.

Solaire has pledged to return the money.

The senate is scheduled to resume its investigation next week.