Date
20 January 2017
Lorenzo Tan says RCBC will repay part of the money if it's found liable. He told a Senate hearing he would recommend to the board that a certain amount be set aside for the purpose. Photo: Rappler
Lorenzo Tan says RCBC will repay part of the money if it's found liable. He told a Senate hearing he would recommend to the board that a certain amount be set aside for the purpose. Photo: Rappler

Philippine bank could repay part of missing Bangladesh funds

A Philippine lender implicated in the theft of US$81 million of Bangladeshi foreign reserves would consider repaying part of any funds that cannot be recovered. Bloomberg reports.

“If we’re found liable, I would recommend to the board to set aside a certain sum,” Lorenzo Tan, president of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), told a five-hour Senate hearing in Manila on Tuesday.

He was replying to a query from Senator Ralph Recto, who said the bank’s board might want to consider shouldering about US$50 million that appeared to be unrecoverable.

Investigators are seeking to track down hackers who attempted to steal almost US$1 billion from Bangladesh’s central bank in February.

While authorities blocked most of the illicit transfers, US$81 million ended up in RCBC, was wired to remittance company Philrem Service Corp. before being sent to casinos where the money trail has gone cold.

Almost all of the money is still missing.

Casino junket operator Kim Wong has said that he turned over about US$5.5 million received from two Chinese nationals to the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council since March 31, and has pledged to return another 450 million pesos (US$9.8 million) that he received from one of the men as a debt payment.

About US$18 million remains with Philrem, Wong told the Senate on March 29, a claim that its officials have denied.

Bangladesh envoy John Gomes told reporters that Philrem may turn over funds, which Philrem president Salud Bautista denied during the Senate hearing.

Bautista said her company had delivered all US$81 million to Wong’s group.

Hackers issued at least 35 Bangladesh Bank SWIFT payment instructions to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York involving US$951 million.

Of the total, four payments comprising US$81 million were later cleared at RCBC.

The bank had received “confusing” stop payment and freeze requests via e-mail from the Bank of Bangladesh in February, Macel Estavillo, the Philippine lender’s head of legal and regulatory affairs, said at Tuesday’s hearing.

It did not immediately realize that the messages were coming from the central bank, she said.

The lender will “allocate whatever amount we are found liable” by any court, Estavillo said in an interview after the hearing.

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