RCBC branch manager faces charges of laundering cyber heist funds

Maia Santos Deguito, a branch manager of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) whispers to her lawyer as she testifies during a Senate hearing on the money laundering involving $81 million stolen from Bangladesh central bank, at the Philippine Senate in Manila April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro/File Photo

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine prosecutors have recommended the filing of charges against a former RCBC bank manager for her part in laundering tens of millions of dollars stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank last year, but they cleared two casino agents and a remittance firm.

A Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution said it had dropped charges filed by the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council against Philrem Service Corp, which had called the remittance firm a “cleaning house” last year in the movement of funds from one of the world’s biggest cyberheists.

The DOJ resolution was dated Aug 24 but was distributed on Thursday.

Hackers penetrated Bangladesh Bank in February last year and sent fraudulent requests for nearly $1 billion from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, mostly intended for accounts in the Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC).

Many of the transfer orders were blocked or reversed by the US central bank and intermediary banks, but $81 million made it to accounts in fake names at RCBC. Most of the funds then disappeared into Manila’s loosely regulated casino industry.

The DOJ recommended that Maia Deguito, a former branch manager at RCBC, and four unknown people who opened accounts in fake names be charged with “eight counts of violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act”.

Deguito’s lawyer Ferdinand Topacio described the recommendation as “a travesty of justice of the worst kind”.

“The DOJ has, in effect, come to the laughable conclusion that a mere bank manager stole $81 million from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Bangladesh, and laundered it through the Philippine banking system and the casino complex, all by her lonesome self,” he said in a mobile text message to reporters.

The New York Fed, which has cooperated with international investigators, declined to comment on the DOJ resolution.

The DOJ also cleared casino boss Kim Wong and junket operator Weikang Xu of any liability, but the resolution did not explain why, only saying the dismissal of the cases against them stands. Wong has returned nearly $15 million of the stolen funds.

Philrem has denied charges that it was used to launder the money. The DOJ said the company escaped criminal charges after its owners showed proof that they had alerted authorities about the suspicious transactions.

RCBC was fined a record one billion Philippine pesos ($19.64 million) by the Philippine central bank for its failure to prevent the movement of the stolen money through its bank, while a top Bangladeshi investigator has said he suspected some IT technicians from the Dhaka-based bank helped the hackers carry out the heist.

($1 = 50.9150 Philippine pesos)

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing By Raju Gopalakrishnan and Chizu Nomiyama)

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