Friday, September 13, 2013

AMLC Strangely Out of the Pork Barrel Picture

Amidst testimonies by Benhur Luy and his fellow witnesses that they had been depositing and withdrawing from bank accounts of their erstwhile boss, Pork Barrel queen Janet Napoles, large sums of money to the tune of tens of millions of pesos, I wonder why the Anti-Money Laundering Counsel (AMLC), tasked to implement the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) of 2001 or RA 9160, as amended by RA 9194, is not being summoned to shed light on what actions, if any, it took concerning the supposed reports, if any, the banks involved submitted to it (AMLC) regarding said deposits.

For sure, the deposits constituted “covered transactionS” under its definition in the law considering the amounts (total of over 500k deposits in a day). They could even be classified as “suspicious transactions,” considering that it is patently abnormal and suspicious for a legitimate business person to be withdrawing in cold cash large sums that would necessitate inconveniently bagging and hauling them.

Banks and other covered institutions enumerated under the law are required to “know their customers.” I wonder how Napoles introduced or represented herself to the banks when she opened her account and throughout her relationship with them in order to override the suspicion (large deposits) triggered by the law (or justify her transactions):

·         there is no underlying legal/trade obligation, purpose or economic justification;

·         the amount involved is not commensurate with the business or financial capacity of the client.

It should not have been enough that she said she was a contractor dealing with the government. In fact, that should have heightened the suspicion and set into motion a thorough investigation, unless those whose duty it was to so do were conspirators or accomplices to these predicate crimes of graft and corruption, and/or plunder.

Legitimate business transactions nowadays are sealed and payments of consideration therefor made through writing checks, wiring direct to accounts, letters of credit, telegraphic transfers, and so forth. When you withdraw cash purportedly to settle business transactions, it’s not only red flag or alarm going off, it is on its face screaming and stinking anomaly that should have triggered covert and extensive investigation.

If banks did not make a report for covered and suspicious transaction to BSP and AMLC, then banks must made to explain why no such actions were taken, and if found remiss, must be meted punishment as provided for under the law.

If banks did what it was incumbent upon them, but AMLC failed to conduct the necessary investigation, then it must be similarly subjected to the process and accountability as the banks, and more, for this time it involves government officials, and if proven that they purposely turned a blind eye, or colluded with the perpetrators.  

It is strange that the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) -quite a mouthful for an ad hoc committee- has been eerily silent on AMLC’s role in their investigation. But I hope that in the coming days it will start to break down its role in detecting these anomalies if only it acted by its mandate.

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