NBI: PCGG-seized firms made deposits in thrift bank tagged in Bautista wealth probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 23) — Senators failed to get much information on the bank transactions of Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Andres Bautista because of the provisions of the bank secrecy law.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) earlier revealed some companies handled by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) deposited money to Luzon Development Bank.

It said these deposits were traced back when Bautista was still the head of the PCGG.

Bautista's wife Patricia showed documents of his alleged assets amounting to about a billion pesos deposited in banks, including LDB.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre ordered the NBI to probe the matter.

READ: Aguirre: NBI findings can be used as evidence vs Comelec chair

Atty. Minerva Retanal, executive director of the NBI's Anti-Fraud Division said they are coordinating with several agencies in relation to the investigation, "particularly involving the accounts with the Luzon Development Bank."

She said they have to "make a financial analysis of historical basis" as Bautista entered government in 2010.

"We have to review the transactions based on that," Retanal said.

She added they discovered bank accounts in LDB were "in sequence,"  they tried to find out which "entities" possibly deposited during that period.

"We were able to discover that sequestered companies also deposited at Luzon Development Bank," Retanal said.

READ: PCGG probes former chief Andy Bautista

But Sen. Franklin Drilon was quick to question the investigation of the NBI on Bautista's alleged undeclared assets.

Drilon stressed the NBI should have secured a court order or authority from the bank before conducting the investigation.

He said, "The NBI can be used by the powers that be in order to harass opponents of this administration."

Sen. Chiz Escudero, chairman of the committee on bank, financial institutions and currencies, also raised the concern that some bank documents shown by Patricia to the NBI may be fake, as claimed by chairman Bautista.

READ: COMELEC Chair cries blackmail and extortion by his estranged wife; ready to face probe

Senators zeroed in on the integrity of the bank and whether or not there are red flags in Bautista's accounts, for instance if it is laundered money.

Officials of the bank did not say if they found Bautista's account suspicious, but they admit they have reported suspicious transactions in the past.

Senators could not say for now whether or not the bank is accountable.

What is disappointing to senators is that they could not get as much information on the bank transactions of Bautista because of the provisions of the bank secrecy law. That is why they will invite the Comelec chairman to attend the next hearing, or ask him to provide an affidavit or a waiver if he cannot make it.

Escudero said, "Gumagalaw na kami para marepeal ang bank secrecy law para hindi nito magamit na hadlang o harang sa anumang imbestigasyon kung saka-sakali laban sa sinumang opisyal."

[Translation:We are moving towards repealing the bank secrecy law so it can't be used as a roadblock in any investigation in case it is against any official.]

After the hearing, Sen. Grace Poe said the LDB should have exercised "enhanced due diligence" into background checks of "politically exposed persons, particularly those holding sensitive government positions like Chairman Bautista."

According to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), politically exposed persons are "individuals who are, or have been, entrusted with prominent public functions, and their family members and close associates."

Poe added, "Obviously, his acts of opening several accounts with large daily deposits should have served as red flags especially since it is public knowledge that a government officer receives a modest salary."

She said these transactions should have been immediately reported to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the AMLC as required by law.

READ: Impeachment complaint filed against Comelec chairman