Ex-RCBC manager Maia Deguito asks Makati court to reverse conviction

MANILA, Philippines – Former Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager Maia Deguito asked Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 149 to reverse its earlier decision convicting her of money laundering over the 2016 Bangladesh Bank heist.

Deguito, in a 53-page motion for reconsideration, claimed that when Makati RTC Branch 149 Judge Cesar Untalan found her guilty of money laundering, he misappreciated facts and evidence, misunderstood what the meaning of a money laundering offense is under the law, and gave the wrong penalty.

Untalan earlier sentenced Deguito to 4 to 7 years in prison for each of the 8 counts of money laundering. She was also ordered to pay $109 million in penalties.

Deguito said none of the elements of money laundering as stated in Section 4 of Republic Act (RA) No. 9160 or the Anti-Money Laundering Act were present in her case.

She said the court itself admitted that the bank accounts of Michael Francisco Cruz, Jessie Christopher Lagrosas, Alfred Santos Vergara, and Enrico Teodoro Vasquez had been inactive since 2015, when they were opened.

"Without the existence of an unlawful activity, its proceeds, and a monetary instrument or property that represents, involves, or relates to such proceeds, then there can be no knowledge of these facts as well. Clearly, no money laundering offense was committed when the accounts were opened in May 2015," she added.

Deguito, who is accused of allowing huge withdrawals from these accounts in February 2016, said that just because the large sums of money, which exceeded P500,000, are considered covered transactions under RA 9160 does not mean they came from unlawful activity.

"But a transaction does not become a violation of Republic Act No. 9160, as amended, by the mere fact of its being a 'covered transaction.' The law, to be sure, does not say this. Instead, it is the failure to report a covered transaction to the Anti-Money Laundering Council that constitutes a money laundering offense," Deguito noted.

The former RCBC manager said the court's conclusion that she had full and prior knowledge of the illegal source of funds "was not based on direct proof of the element of knowledge, as the prosecution failed to present any."

"Instead, it was only presumed by the Honorable Court from the alleged failure of accused to do what the Honorable Court believes she should have done," Deguito added.

She also said the validity of the remittances and their sources were verified, and that she had no authority to stop the withdrawals.

“Another reason why accused could not have stopped the transactions was because RCBC higher-ups actually put a hold on the transactions, but then lifted the hold after determining that the remittances were valid," Deguito said.

The $81-million Bangladesh Bank heist had attracted international attention in 2016.

Funds stolen from Bangladesh's central bank were converted to Philippine pesos and distributed to junket operators and casinos. (READ: How Bangladesh Bank dirty money easily got into PH)

The money was deposited to foreign currency accounts of RCBC, which passed it on to Philrem Service Corporation for conversion and distribution.

In 2017, the Department of Justice cleared Philrem executives, leaving Deguito to face the charges. (READ: Bank heist probe: Questions, contradictions hound Philrem) – with reports from Lian Buan/Rappler.com