The $81-million money laundering incident allegedly from the hacked Bangladesh Bank system has made the creation of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)  imperative to prevent the scam from happening again in the future.

“We need to pass the proposed law to prevent any potential hacking of our banking system which could lead to tremendous financial losses like what happened to Bangladesh ,” Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, said as he appealed to President Aquino to sign the DICT bill.

The senatorial candidate of the Nationalist People’s Coalition is referring to Senate Bill No. 2686 and House Bill No. 6198, both seeking to create the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), which will take over the “communications” function of the would-be Department of Transportation (DOT). The Senate already adopted the House bill as an amendment to its version last month.

Also to be created under the bill is the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Center (CICC) whose powers and functions include the formulation of the national cybersecurity plan and facilitation of international cooperation on intelligence regarding cybersecurity matters.

BANK HACKED

“The transfer of the CICC to the DICT shall ensure that it will get sufficient funding to execute its functions and responsibilities. The incident that has led to the illegal transfer of more than $80 million to Philippine accounts emphasizes the need to immediately enact the proposed measure establishing the DICT,” Gatchalian, a majority member of the House committee on trade and industry explained.

Philippine National  Police (PNP) Director-General Ricardo Marquez earlier admitted that many local financial institutions have already been victimized by computer hackers and have lost huge amounts in corporate funds.

Among the victims is one of the country’s largest banks which lost “substantial amount of deposits to hackers” a few months ago.

“Last November, for the very first time in their history, one of the largest banks of our country stepped forward, asked [for] our help, and for the first time, admitted that they have, indeed, registered some very significant losses to cybercriminals,” narrated Marquez.

TIME TO AMEND AMLA

Gatchalian said the gaping loophole in the country’s anti-money laundering laws has made it imperative for Congress to amend the law — this time to include casino operations among the covered transactions to be placed under strict watch.

“Amending the AMLA is long overdue. I fully agree that casinos and related businesses should be included in the list of covered institutions that would have to report suspicious transactions to the Anti-Money Laundering Council,” the senatorial aspirant added.

He lamented that casino operations have not been included among the activities to be closely monitored under the provisions of the AMLA.

The reported $81 million money laundering operation that victimized the Bank of Bangladesh could not have succeeded if casinos operating in the country are already under AMLA coverage.

Casinos are among those extremely vulnerable to money-laundering activities and should be placed under close supervision.

WEAK LINK

The Valenzuela City congressman maintained there is a need to upgrade the AMLA and subject it to  timely reforms to make it more compliant with international standards set by the world’s financial institutions and watchdogs.

“The government should maintain the country’s good standing with the international financial system by amending the AMLA. It’s s about time that the AMLC be given additional powers over casinos to make sure that these can no longer be used in money-laundering activities,” explained Gatchalian.

Amending the AMLA is even made more urgent, Gatchalian said by the US State Department report citing the casino industry as a weak link in the Philippines’ effort to stop money laundering and terror financing. The assessment was contained in the State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

According to the report, regionally organized crime groups such as Chinese triads have infiltrated casino operations and have facilitated prostitution, narcotics trafficking, loan-sharking and suspect junket and VIP gaming tours.

The report also said “money laundering is a serious concern due to the Philippines’ international narcotics trade, high degree of corruption among government officials, trafficking in persons and the high volume of remittances from Filipinos living abroad.”

Gatchalian said there is also a need to revisit the congressional franchise being given to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), which acts as concurrent casino regulator and operator.

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