'Scapegoat': Ex-RCBC manager maintained innocence before dirty money verdict

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 10 2019 11:23 AM

Ex-RCBC branch manager Maia Deguito gestures at a Senate hearing in 2016. Deguito was convicted of money laundering on Jan. 10, 2018 over a $81 million cyber heist. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA -- A Filipina bank manager convicted Thursday of money laundering over an $81-million cyber heist had insisted that she was a mere scapegoat, both in tearful TV interviews and in testimonies before lawmakers.

Ex-Rizal Commercial Banking Corp manager Maia Deguito faces 4-7 years for each of 8 counts of money laundering and $109 million in fines.

She is the only person so far to be convicted in court. Investigations by the Senate and the Department of Justice spanned bank executives, high rollers and government officials.

In early February 2016, hackers stole $81 million from Bangladesh Bank's account with the New York Federal Reserve and shifted the money to casinos and 4 accounts at the RCBC branch headed by Deguito.

"Wala kaming ginawang masama. Hindi ko alam, sabi ko nga kung nanaginip nga ako sana magising na lang ako," Deguito said in an ABS-CBN interview aired March 14, 2016, her first since news of the heist broke.

(I didn't do anything wrong. If this is a bad dream, please wake me up.)

Breaking down in tears, Deguito said: "Araw-araw, parang tinatawid ko lang buhay ko. Ang hirap hirap. Natatakot ako para sa sarili ko, para sa pamilya ko. Kaya lang, kung hindi naman ako lalabas, paano na lang kami?"

(It's like I'm living my life from day-to-day. It's very difficult. I fear for my own safety, for the safety of my family. But if I don't speak out, what will become of us?)

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Testifying before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee on April 5, 2016, Deguito described herself as an "unwitting scapegoat."

''Truly, a crime of this magnitude could be possible only with the participation of people from the highest officialdom of the bank in cahoots with extremely wealthy businessmen whose far-reaching powers and influence span several countries," she said.

While it indicted Deguito for money laundering, the Department of Justice cleared casino boss Kim Wong, junket operator Weikang Xu and remittance service Philrem.

Some of the money was shifted to Wong's accounts. He denied wrongdoing and returned at least $15 million.

RCBC was fined a record P1 billion by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas over the heist. Bank president Lorenzo Tan resigned in May 2016.