BSP denies it leaked Corona's accounts

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Feb 20 2012 10:44 PM | Updated as of Feb 21 2012 03:00 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) on Monday said the leak of Chief Justice Renato Corona's Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) accounts did not come from them.

The central bank, in a press statement hours after day 20 of the impeachment trial, said its examiners didn't access Chief Justice Renato Corona's deposit account records, including his signature cards, when PSBank underwent regular examination from October 21 to December 6, 2010.

"[BSP examiners] never requested to see the deposit account records of the Chief Justice nor were they presented the deposit accounts of the Chief Justice," the central bank said.

"BSP examiners therefore could not have copied nor secured copies of such deposit account records including the signature cards of Chief Justice Renato Corona," it added.

The central bank said that while PSBank was undergoing regular examination in 2010, bank employee Grace dela Cruz revealed to BSP examiner Jerry Leal that Corona won P1 million in the PSBank's raffle for valued account holders.

Politically-exposed persons

Leal is an anti-money-laundering specialist of the BSP and is not necessarily a member of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), contrary to reports that surfaced from Monday's proceedings.

Leal then verified PSBank had properly classified its accounts of politically-exposed persons (PEP) such as politicians and high-ranking appointed officials, which is a requirement for the bank to have under BSP regulations.

"Maintaining a PEP list is a standard element of an effective anti-money-laundering compliance program in accordance with international best practices," the BSP said.

The central bank said Leal only asked for PSBank's PEP list and saw that Corona was not tagged as a PEP.

Under international anti-money-laundering regulations, the bank accounts of PEPs such as politicians, as well as their families, require heightened scrutiny.

Tougher regulations are enforced bank accounts of PEPs because they are considered more "high risk" when it comes to the threat of money laundering.

The BSP said Leal also found out that other PSBank clients were not tagged as PEPs after he compared the list that bank gave him with the transaction reports that PSBank submitted to the AMLC.

The central bank's report following its examination of PSBank stated that the bank's PEP list was not comprehensive.

"PSBank was therefore directed to strengthen its compliance with AMLA," the BSP said.

"We amphasize that discussion with BSP Examiner Jerry Leal and the PSBank Compliance Officer [Grace dela Cruz] concerning the Chief Justice was limited to the extent of validating PSBank's compliance with PEP tagging," the central bank said.

During the trial on Monday, Senator-judge Joker Arroyo said he found it “disturbing” that AMLC can be used for “political vendetta."

“Now it’s the Chief Justice. Tomorrow, if we offend Malacañang, if we don’t follow, they can proceed against us through information gathered by AMLC. It’s a disturbing thought,” Arroyo said.

No AMLC probe of Corona's accounts

Senator-judge Teofisto "TG" Guingona III told PSBank President Pascual Garcia that the AMLC denied to him in a phone call that it audited Philippine Savings Bank, contrary to an earlier statement made by Garcia before the impeachment court. 

He also asked Garcia if he is aware that AMLC does not do regular audits of banks.

"It does not. It only visits a bank upon a court order [or] upon existence of a predicate crime," Guingona said. Among these are crimes such as kidnapping and drug trafficking.

He added that only the BSP is authorized to routinely examine banks.

"I did call AMLC. They categorically deny that they audited (PSBank)," he added.

Garcia, after checking PSBank's records, later told Senator-judge Bongbong Marcos that it was a BSP anti-money-laundering specialist and not the AMLC, which was involved in the regular examination of the bank.

He said the BSP examination by the anti-money-laundering specialist did not look into Corona's accounts or balances and only made recommendations regarding the bank's PEPs list.

Not from AMLC: prosecutors

Last week, prosecution panel spokesman Miro Quimbo denied that the documents came from the AMLC. He said they explored the possibility of getting AMLC's assistance, but noted that the council had very strict requirements before a bank account can be opened for scrutiny.

The AMLA authorizes the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to "inquire or examine any deposit or investment with any banking institution without court order in the course of a periodic or special examination." Amendments to the AMLA lowered the threshold for investigations into transactions from P4 million to P500,000.

The AMLC is composed of the BSP governor as Chairman and the commissioner of the Insurance Commission and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission as members.

Rep. Rey Umali earlier said he got a copy of the document from a “small lady” on February 2. Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal, on the other hand, said the documents on Corona's bank accounts were in an envelope that was left in the gate of his house last January 30.