Ex-RCBC manager Deguito found guilty of money laundering

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 10 2019 09:29 AM | Updated as of Jan 10 2019 01:24 PM

Ex-RCBC branch manager Maia Santos Deguito attends a Senate hearing on the $81 million cyber theft that struck Bangladesh Bank. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA -- A former Rizal Commercial Banking Corp bank manager on Thursday was found guilty of money laundering in connection with the $81-million cyber heist on Bangladesh's central bank 3 years ago.

Maia Santos Deguito was sentenced to 4 to 7 years in prison for each of the 8 counts of money laundering by the Makati Regional Trial Court, over a year after she was indicted by state prosecutors. She was fined a total of $109 million.

Deguito was "utterly shocked" and will appeal the decision, said her lawyer, Demetrio Custodio. Out on bail, Custodio said his client could not be jailed until avenues for appeal are exhausted.

"We were pointing out to the court that Maia could not have acted on this because her position at the bank was one of customer care and therefore she had no function that will relate to the operation of banking transactions," Custodio said.

"I am disheartened to believe that due to the amount involved here, only a very lowly person is prosecuted by the government," he said. "There should be more people who should be liable to this other than a very lowly bank officer who had nothing to do with operational matters."

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Deguito was the manager of the RCBC branch where a portion of the $81 million that was stolen by unknown hackers of Bangladesh Bank were deposited in accounts under fictitious names, based on the Department of Justice investigation.

The caper highlighted vulnerabilities in Philippine anti-money laundering laws as some of the money was shifted to casino accounts that could not be immediately scrutinized by authorities.

The Senate held several nationally televised hearings on the caper and in June 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law to include casinos under the Anti-Money Laundering Council's watch.

At the time of the indictment, Deguito's lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio described the charge as "a travesty of justice of the worst kind."

It is "laughable" to conclude that a "mere bank manager" stole from Bangladesh Bank's account with the New York Federal Reserve and laundered the money "all by her lonesome self," Topacio said at that time.

The DOJ also cleared casino boss Kim Wong, junket operator Weikang Xu and remittance service Philrem. Wong returned at least $15 million of the stolen money that landed in casino accounts.

RCBC was fined a record P1 billion by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas over the heist.

Bangladesh Bank is working to recover the remainder of the stolen money and has threatened to sue RCBC. The Filipino lender said it was also considering legal action.

-- with a report from Jeck Batallones and Dexter Ganibe, ABS-CBN News