Philippine Court Rules in First Conviction in Bangladesh Bank Heist Case

Former RCBC bank manager Maia Santos-Deguito faces 49 years imprisonment and fines of up to $110mn for her role in the February 2016 theft of $81mn from Bangladesh’s central bank.

A court in Makati, Philippines has convicted former bank manager Maia Santos-Deguito of money laundering in relation to the 2016 heist of the central bank of Bangladesh.

According to press reports, Deguito worked at Philippine bank RCBC (Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation) as a bank manager was found guilty at the Makati regional trial court of eight charges of money laundering. She faces 49 years imprisonment or four to seven years for each offence, in addition to fines of up to USD 110 million.

“The prosecution evidence can stand by itself to convict the herein accused beyond reasonable doubt,” the Regional Trial Court said in its decision. “The crime of violation of the subject law is fully proved and established.”

Deguito was reportedly convicted for taking advantage of her knowledge of banking law and more than a decade of experience to facilitate the “illegal transactions with ease”, the court said. “Her declaration in open court that she has nothing to do with these transactions was a complete and comprehensive lie,” said the 26-page ruling.

Deguito is expected to file an appeal and will not be imprisoned, pending a final ruling from the Supreme Court.

“This case will still follow a very long process, this is just a temporary setback as far as Ms Deguito is concerned,” Deguito’s lawyer, Demetrio Custodio told reporters.

Deguito’s conviction is the first related to a heist targeting Bangladesh Bank’s foreign reserves in February 2016. Hackers wired USD 81 million from the central bank’s foreign reserve account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to four fictitious accounts at the RCBC branch, where Deguito was a manager.

Bangladesh Bank has only recovered USD 15 million so far.

The money was then, after being converted into pesos, laundered through local casinos. The Philippines’ DOJ (Department of Justice) is still pursuing cases against other RCBC employees, including former treasurer Raul Tan.

The cases against casino operator Kim Wong, who had received some of the money, and foreign exchange company Philrem Service were dropped.

Deguito told the Senate in 2016 that senior bank executives were aware of her actions, even as they denied her claims.

“The conviction of Deguito is consistent with the bank’s position that it is the victim in this situation and that Deguito is a rogue employee,” RCBC spokeswoman Thea Daep said in a statement.

“There are six other RCBC officials whose cases have been sent by AMLC [Anti-Money Laundering Council of the Philippines] to the DOJ, we hope that will also be expedited after this case,” Bangladesh’s Ambassador to the Philippines Asad Alam Siam reportedly said.

The Philippines included casinos in its money laundering laws following reforms in 2017 triggered by the scandal. RCBC was fined 1 billion pesos for its role.

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