Transactions or aggregate transactions at Philippines casinos equivalent to as little as US$3,200 per day could be deemed “covered transactions” for the purposes of the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act, according to a bill announced on Thursday.
In Macau, the reporting threshold for casino transactions is MOP500,000 (US$62,600). The U.S. Department of State regularly urges Macau to reduce the threshold set for casinos to report “large” transactions to the equivalent of US$3,000 “to bring it in line with international standards”.
Two days after it was announced that a lawmaker in the Philippines’ lower legislative house had tabled a bill to include casinos in the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA), a lawmaker in the upper house – the Senate – has tabled a similar measure.
According to a press release issued on Thursday by the Senate of the Philippines, Senate Bill 45, filed by Senator Panfilo Lacson, seeks to include not only casinos, but also real estate brokers, and dealers of art works and motor vehicles, under the “covered persons” definition in the country’s anti-money laundering (AML) statute.
The proposed bill from Mr Lacson, a former director general of the Philippine National Police, also updates the Act’s requirement with regard to customer identification to include all aspects of customer due diligence.
According to the press statement, it would also authorise casinos and other covered persons “to temporarily withhold transaction and/or withhold subsequent transactions for up to two banking days, to allow them to verify if a transaction is suspicious, and terminate if they find reasonable belief that there is possible violation of the AMLA”.
The statement adds: “Covered transactions involve amounts in excess of PHP500,000 [US$10,600] in one banking day. For casinos, it may include single or aggregate transactions exceeding PHP150,000 [US$3,200] in one gaming day.”
Mr Lacson said, as quoted in the press release, explaining his reasoning for the inclusion of casinos within the Anti-Money Laundering Act’s scope: “While the contributions of the [casino] industry are acknowledged, it is also understood that casinos are equally exposed to the raging threats of money laundering.”
The statement noted that Mr Lacson’s bill stated that the Financial Action Task Force – a Paris-based body monitoring AML efforts globally – has “noted how money launderers now use such businesses and professions to cover their illegal transactions, with the casino industry seemingly attractive for those undertaking money-laundering activities”.
Mr Lacson’s bill would prohibit casino operators from: “… receipt of cash for transmittal through wire or telegraphic transfer for or on behalf of a customer; payments in cash of funds received through wire or telegraphic transfer; cashing of cheques or other negotiable instruments; [and from] receiving money, the purpose of ownership of which cannot be ascertained within a period of seven days, unless the AMLC prescribes a different period, from the date of the receipt.”
The Senate’s Thursday press release announcing Senate Bill 45 noted that an online theft – estimated by the authorities at US$81 million – from the Bank of Bangladesh in February 2016, had exposed the Philippine AML law’s “vulnerabilities in curtailing money laundering schemes in the Philippines, as a sum of the laundered money was moved to the casino industry through [casino] junket operators”.
According to testimony – attributed by local media to the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council and given at a Philippines Senate hearing in March – of the US$81 million in stolen funds, US$63 million allegedly found its way collectively, via a number of domestic transactions, into the Midas Hotel and Casino in Manila, a property majority-owned by Leisure and Resorts World Corp; and Solaire Resort and Casino in Entertainment City, Manila, a property developed and operated by Bloomberry Resorts Corp. There the money mostly vanished in exchange for gaming chips, it was said during the hearings.
Mr Lacson’s Senate Bill 45 would in particular make the country’s central bank – the Bangko Sentral ng Filipinas – the supervising authority of foreign exchange dealers, money changers, and remittance and money transfer businesses, for purposes of the AMLA.
During the Senate hearings in March into the Bangladesh theft scandal, it emerged that there had been disputes among Philippine officials as to which public body should be responsible for investigating the money trail regarding the missing Bangladeshi cash.
Mr Lacson’s bill would also add to the list of unlawful activities covered by the Anti-Money Laundering Act. Those additions include: violations of firearms and ammunition legislation; cybercrime; violations of the country’s Strategic Trade Management Act regarding weapons of mass destruction; and tax evasion.
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"The [Macau] government has a lead in this subject in regards to what should be done after the [gaming] concessions expire. We will be first listening to what the government will say”
Ambrose So Shu Fai
Vice-chairman and chief executive at Macau casino operator SJM Holdings