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Casinos and bank heists

MANILA (Agencies): The casino industry in The Philippines is growing at an alarming rate, as it encourages the activities that corrupt politicians can easily profit from; money laundering, drug running and prostitution—all of which assuredly are more fun in The Philippines.

The Philippine bishops have released a statement in the wake of a US$81 million ($627 million) bank heist that saw the money spirited away from Bangladesh to a commercial bank in the Pearl of the Orient Seas.

Titled, Money Laundering in the Gambling Republic, and released on March 28, the president of the conference, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, says, “No one pulls off a criminal stunt like this alone,” in a hint that syndicates may have colluded with bank executives and public officials.

“Casinos of course can be avenues of money-laundering and it is just not possible to include within legislation whatever means criminals, in their ingenuity, may make use of to make proceeds of criminal activity take on the appearance of legitimate currency and earnings,” the archbishop continues.

On March 29, state gambling regulators told a congressional hearing that blowing US$10 million ($77.5 million) in a single binge became a regular occurrence in the clearing of the money from the heist.

UCAN reported that Kim Wong, a powerful junket agent who has been charged with money laundering, told the enquiry that he believes that it is insulting to ask a client where the money comes from.

Wong parks US$150 million ($1.16 billion) for high rolling clients at one particular casino from which he receives 74.5 per cent of earnings as against the 26.5 per cent received by the state corporation.

His earnings are calculated against amount gambled, regardless of win or lose.

It is believed that Chinese agents are behind the money heist, two from Beijing and one from Macau.

The president of the RCBC Bank, Lorenzo Tan, told the senate enquiry that the alert level at his bank is about four times higher than most others, which is normally set at US$5 million ($38.75 million).

He admitted that authorities at his bank ignored a hold request from the Central Bank of Bangladesh.

Wong has good friends in the congress who have protected him during past narcotics investigations. He is also known to be a benefactor of the Philippine National Police.

The bishops lament how gambling, particularly online betting, continue to thrive in the country even though many other countries have banned and even criminalised it.

Archbishop Villegas says that many people make their way into the country for the sole purpose of placing online bets and indulging in the varied forms of what he calls detestable activity.

The statement says repeatedly that large-scale and organised gambling is linked with organised crime—especially in the area of money laundering.

Nevertheless, since this is one of the purposes of casinos, they continue to flourish, because the government, or at least those within government who profit seem to like it that way.

“And while we are not prepared to say that all gambling in The Philippines is crime-related, we are alarmed at the seeming lukewarmness on the part of government and civil society at dealing with these forms of high-stakes, high-risk gambling,” Archbishop Villegas stresses.

The Church reiterated its position against casinos, emphasising that gambling and upright moral values cannot flourish side by side.

 

“It is common knowledge that fortunes have been lost, families have been wrecked, futures shattered at casino tables,” Archbishop Villegas concluded.

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