Several persons of interest linked to Wirecard probed for money laundering – AMLC

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 3) – Several persons and business entities are being probed for possible money laundering given their links to embattled German firm Wirecard AG, the head of the Anti-Money Laundering Council said.

AMLC executive director Mel Georgie Racela told CNN Philippines that several individuals are currently the subject of the financial watchdog's analysis, triggered by claims of the German payments firm that they had $2.1 billion (about ₱104 billion) placed under the trust of two Philippine banks which went missing.

The company later on said that these funds may not have existed in the first place. The scandal was unveiled when Wirecard's auditor presented bank certificates to BDO Unibank and the Bank of the Philippine Islands, which both said were fake.

"We are analyzing the transactions of all the entities involved as well as the persons mentioned in the press statements – their actual financial transactions. As long as those financial transactions exceed ₱500,000, they are part of our database and those are the transactions we analyze," Racela said in an exclusive interview.

READ: PH reputation unharmed by Wirecard scandal – BSP

Racela did not reveal details of the ongoing investigation, but confirmed that Wirecard AG and Wirecard e-Money Philippines Inc. are part of the inquiry. Also included are the companies named by the Financial Times when it looked into Wirecard's dealings back in March 2019: Centurion Online Payment International, PayEasy Solutions, and ConePay International. ConePay used a retired seaman's home address in Nueva Ecija as its business address in the Philippines.

These supposed Wirecard partners were tagged as the big players dealing with the German blue chip, but were found to be using office addresses in Manila that seemed too small for their reported financial might and scale.

Filipinos linked to the Wirecard scandal so far are lawyers Mark Tolentino – who has been invited to a separate inquiry of the National Bureau of Investigation – and Andre Ria Buzeta, who was acted as treasurer-in-trust in setting up Wirecard's Philippine unit. The list continues to evolve as AMLC includes more persons or companies mentioned in news reports for their ties to the fintech firm.

Tolentino has secured two temporary restraining orders stopping BDO and BPI from releasing details of his accounts with them for three days, which could be extended by the courts.

"What we are analyzing in regard to the flow of funds are the financial transactions of the persons and entities of interest," Racela said.

He clarified that the probe continues despite the admission of Wirecard officials that the supposedly missing funds may never have existed at all.

"If that is the case, then there's nothing to analyze in regard to the missing funds. However, as mentioned, there is also some other crimes involved in this case like the two rogue employees of the bank [and the] forging or issuing false certifications," the AMLC official added.

Wirecard's sacked chief executive officer Markus Braun has been arrested in Germany for suspected accounting fraud following the exposé which revealed that the firm could have been padding its financial statements, particularly transaction volumes in Asia, to make it attractive to more investors.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno chairs the AMLC, with the Insurance Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission sitting as members of the body. Racela confirmed Diokno's statement that there was never a $2.1-billion inflow to local banks,  which would have been easily detected through the AMLC's reporting channels. Currently, the country's framework to combat dirty money deals covers up to 90 percent of the local financial system.

Under existing rules, banks and other reporting institutions must alert AMLC on all transactions worth more than ₱500,000 as well as those that look suspicious, such as a sudden spike in money deals which are not justified by a person or company's economic means.

RELATED: Mastercard and Visa reportedly reconsidering their relationship with Wirecard following accounting scandal

But what if the money was sent in several transaction below ₱500,000 to avoid AMLC's radar?

Racela admitted that the case appears to be complex and could take months for the AMLC to finish its investigation. He added that they are assisting the NBI's parallel probe on the issue, which covers other possible violations.

CNN Philippines' Lois Calderon contributed to this report.