Themorningbellbd.com desk, Mar 17: Senators held a closed-door meeting on Thursday to hear the testimony of Maia Santos-Deguito, branch manager of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), who is at the center of the alleged $81 million money laundering scheme.
Deguito has been requesting the Senate blue ribbon committee to hear her testimony in an executive session, citing the case that has already been filed against her in connection with her alleged involvement in the scheme.
The committee finally acceded to the request of Deguito after Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile moved to cite the branch manager in contempt for refusing to answer his question whether or not there was a threat to her life after she was embroiled in the controversy.
This was after Romualdo Agarado, former customers service head of the branch, earlier quoted Deguito as saying that “I’d rather do this than me being killed or my family.”
Agarado said Deguito made the remark in front of him and assistant branch manager Angala Torres in the morning of February 9.
However, Deguito denied making such statement, saying she was willing to tell all in an executive session.
“Hindi po totoo yung sinabi nya na may ganoon (akong) sinabi. Ipapaliwanag ko na lang po nang buo lahat sa executive session pero wala po akong sinabi na ganun,” she said.
(It is not true that I said that. I will explain the whole matter in an executive session but I did not say that.)
“Magsalita ka ng katotohanan dito kung hindi (Tell the truth or) I’ll make a motion to hold you in contempt,” an irate Enrile said.
“Hindi naman po akong tumatangging sumagot, humihingi lang po ako ng executive session,” Deguito said.
(I am not refusing to answer, I am just asking for an executive session [to answer these questions].)
“Hindi pwedeng executive session, hindi mo sasabihin sa amin kung ano ang gusto mo. Nanumpa ka dito na magsabi ka ng katotohanan (We cannot resort to an executive session, you cannot just tell us what you want. You have sworn to tell the truth). Mr. Chair, you better warn this witness, otherwise, I will make a motion to hold her in contempt and we will detain her here,” said the senator.
However, Deguito again invoked her right against self-incrimination and appealed for consideration from the senators.
“Patas lang dito, ikaw ang pinangalingan nitong gulo na ito. Ikaw ang nakakaalam lahat nito, bakit hihingi ka ng executive session…? Sabihin mo muna sa amin ang dahilan bakit gusto mo ng executive session? Natatakot ka ba? Tinatakot ka ba? O meron bang makakasunog sa banking system natin?” Enrile said.
(We are just being fair, you are the source of this mess. You are privy to this matter, so why would you ask for an executive session? Tell us first why you would opt for an executive session. Are you afraid? Are they scaring you? Or would anyone or anything destroy our banking system?)
And when the branch manager tried to reason out again, the senator said: “Mr. Chair, I don’t want to argue with the witness. I’m making a motion to hold this witness in contempt.”
The committee suspended the proceeding and when it resumed, its members agreed to hear Deguito’s testimony in a closed-door meeting.
Maia Santos-Deguito took ‘P200-million’ as bribe
EAST West Bank (EWB) is looking into allegations made by a client, businessman William So Go, that one of its branch managers had tried to entice him with a “P200-million” money-making deal with Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito, a former EWB manager.
Deguito, along with several “John Does” who are believed to be using aliases, has been charged by the Anti-Money Laundering Council with involvement in the entry of $81 million in dirty money into the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street in Makati City.
The funds, later found to be part of money stolen by hackers from the account of the central bank of Bangladesh with the US Federal Reserve Bank in New York, eventually found their way to local casinos.
Go testified at a Senate hearing on Tuesday that it was Allan Peñalosa of the EWB branch in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) who first invited him to meet with Deguito and asked him if he wanted to earn P200 million.
He claimed Peñalosa had told him that he could not explain the matter fully and that Deguito would give him a more detailed answer
Based on Go’s account, this was the same meeting where Deguito confessed to opening an account in his name and in which the controversial RCBC branch manager offered him P10 million to go with the scheme—an allegation denied by Deguito in earlier interviews.
“We have no knowledge of the alleged involvement of Mr. Allan Peñalosa, store head [manager] of East West Bank-Burgos Circle (Bonifacio Global City), in arranging the supposed meeting between Ms Maia Deguito and Mr. William So Go. Mr. Peñalosa’s alleged involvement with Mr. Go is not related to his functions as an officer of the Bank,” EWB said in a press statement Wednesday.
Nonetheless, the bank said: “We will investigate these reports and shall take the necessary actions in accordance with existing bank policies.”
EWB president Antonio Moncupa Jr. said the bank would let Peñalosa attend today’s hearing of the Senate blue ribbon committee on the money-laundering scheme.
“Yes, Peñalosa should appear,” Moncupa said.
The meeting that Peñalosa allegedly brokered took place on Feb. 23 at Mary Grace restaurant in Serendra at BGC, Go said.
Asked during the hearing what role Peñalosa played in this, Go said: “I have no idea.”
Go’s company, Centurytex Trading, is a client of EWB, where Deguito used to work before joining RCBC in 2013. He said he had previously met Deguito when she was with EWB.
The businessman has vehemently denied owning the US dollar account that was opened on Feb. 5, the same day the $81 million was wired to four suspicious bank accounts at the RCBC branch on Jupiter Street.