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Philippines risks being ‘money laundering’ hub – Santiago

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (Photo from her Facebook account/by Menchit Ongpin)
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (Photo from her Facebook account/by Menchit Ongpin)

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago on Wednesday said that if elected president in May, she will certify as urgent a bill expanding the coverage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) to include casinos.

Santiago said the recent $81-million fiasco involving funds hacked from Bank of Bangladesh highlights the urgent need to require casinos to report questionable deals to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

“If the casino sector remains outside of the coverage of AMLA, the Philippines risks becoming the world’s money laundering capital,” the senator said.

Her statement comes as the Senate blue ribbon committee continues to probe how the funds hacked from US accounts managed to enter the Philippine financial system unchecked.

The funds were later transferred to accounts of major casino players, and were reportedly used to either “buy chips” or “pay for casino losses.”

Santiago said the AMLA amendment is necessary for the Philippines to keep out of the blacklist of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global body against money laundering and terrorist financing.

If blacklisted by the FATF, the country would suffer higher financial transaction costs and stringent cross-border measures for money transactions. At present, the Philippines remains in the FATF “grey list.”

The Congress has sought to require casinos to report to AMLC in 2012, but the proposal was opposed by the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), saying that the provision might drive away investors.

Santiago vowed to match the lobby from the casino sector with political will.

“The Filipinos should elect a president who will not bow to the whims of big business, to the detriment of public interest,” the senator said.

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