Anti-money laundering body flags P14-B POGO-linked 'suspicious transactions'

Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 05 2020 03:58 PM

MANILA—The Philippines' Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) flagged some P14 billion in “suspicious transactions” within a two-year period in connection with offshore gaming operations in the country, one of its key officials told senators Thursday.

Among the alleged dubious transactions are drug trafficking, fraud, and violations of the country’s electronic commerce law, said lawyer Mel Racela, AMLC executive director. 

The findings were part of the agency’s risk assessment report on Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO), where related criminal activities such as kidnapping prompted calls for its closure.

At a separate Senate committee hearing last month, Racela disclosed that the agency found from the same assessment "an increasing level of threat to money laundering and other fraudulent activities," among others.

Recommendations were subsequently offered to address the risks, according to him.

At Thursday's hearing by the Senate blue ribbon committee, Racela said money flowing through the industry from 2017 to 2019 amounted to P54 billion, representing less than a third of one percent of the Philippine economy.

“There is no sense in continuing this POGO operations licensing,” said Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, citing “social problems” triggered by the industry.

“It’s not worth what we see as (its) adverse effects on our society.”

Drilon criticized the government’s gambling regulators for focusing on revenues from the POGO industry, saying it “indicates the kind of mindset we have.”

"Such a short-term, short-gain statement,” he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, who chairs the blue ribbon committee, estimated that a $633 million (or P32 billion) in suspected dirty money were brought into the country from September 2019 up to this month.

One alleged syndicate he identified as the Rodriguez family had a total transaction of $283 million from July 2019 to March 2020.

The POGO industry, which targets Chinese citizens, employs thousands of Chinese nationals, some of them illegally, amid Beijing's declaration of any form of gambling as unlawful.