The Philippines appellate court has upheld the money laundering conviction of a former Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) manager over an $81-million heist from the Bangladesh Bank in 2016.
The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the conviction of Maia Santos-Deguito, according to a CNN report published on Wednesday.
In a 58-page verdict released on Wednesday, the CA denied Deguito's appeal to reverse her conviction for eight counts of violation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
The former RCBC employee argued the Makati trial court that convicted her erred in its understanding of money laundering offence, and that her supposed prior knowledge about the illegality of the transactions was "merely presumed", according to the report.
But the appellate court ruled that elements of money laundering are present in Deguito's case — particularly the knowledge that any monetary instrument or property represents, involves, or relates to the proceeds of any unlawful activity, transaction of said money, and movement or utilisation of said money, the report stated.
It further stressed that Deguito — who was the business manager of RCBC Jupiter Makati — was "not just a mere employee," and that her opening of the accounts had "set the wheels in motion," CNN reports.
In light of the above conclusions, there is no doubt that the prosecution was able to prove that Deguito is guilty of eight counts of violation under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the CA said.
"Thus, the Court finds no need to further discuss the other issues raised by the parties," the CA said in its decision promulgated on February 23.
In January 2019, Deguito was sentenced to four to seven years imprisonment for each count of money laundering and was fined $109 million.
On February 4, 2016, hackers broke into the Bangladesh central bank's system and generated 70 fake payment orders to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York amounting to $1.94 billion.
The NY Fed's security system flagged the payment orders but only five of them fell through and $101 million was released. Of the amount, $81 million was wired to RCBC's branch in Manila, while $20 million made its way to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka sent back the entire sum immediately after the heist was exposed. But in the Philippines, the $81 million was later withdrawn and converted to pesos, then gambled in local casinos before the authorities could track it.
The Philippines has sent back a portion of the stolen money.
The Makati court found Deguito liable for the crime as she facilitated the withdrawal and deposit of millions of dollars to accounts of unknown and fictitious bank holders. This has been denied by Deguito, CNN reports.