ranking official of Pagcor, which is in charge of regulating gaming activities in the country, said the funds were split into a $26-million tranche that was channeled into the account of Solaire Resort and Casino and a $20-million tranche that was directed to the accounts of Easter Hawaii Casino and Resort at the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority in Santa Ana, Cagayan province.
The two tranches, totaling $46 million (P2.16 billion), represent 56 percent of the stolen money that entered the Philippine financial system between Feb. 5 and Feb 9, 2016.
The $81 million is suspected to be part of nearly $1 billion that hackers stole from the Bangladesh central bank’s current account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
“Only a portion (of the $81 million) went to the local casinos and these were all used to bet at the tables and buy chips,” a Pagcor official told the Inquirer, requesting anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
“The rest of the funds never entered the local casino system. So, we don’t know where those funds went,” the official added.
"It remains unclear how much of the stolen funds were frozen by the AMLC order or how any of the funds would be disposed of, or whether they would be turned over to Bangladeshi authorities"
The Pagcor official said the gaming clients to whose accounts the funds were credited had started playing at the gaming tables even ahead of the arrival of the remittance, using a credit line provided by the casinos as a standard practice for high-rollers.
“Some of the funds were used to cover losses incurred by the players,” the official said.
The Pagcor official stressed that there were protocols in place in the local gaming industry to mitigate possible money laundering, including the practice of encashing chips only in favor of the same party that originally brought them in.
This practice prevents the transfer of funds from one party to another using casino operations to hide the origin of the funds, he said.
He added that the same funds were held in accounts that were eventually ordered frozen by the Court of Appeals acting on a request by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).
Before the freeze order was issued on March 1, however, the funds were being used for betting at the casinos’ tables, the official said.
“For 20 days, the funds were just there, being used for betting. Everything seemed normal. There was nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “It was only when the Inquirer story came out that authorities acted on this.”
It remains unclear how much of the stolen funds were frozen by the AMLC order or how any of the funds would be disposed of, or whether they would be turned over to Bangladeshi authorities.
AMLC officials have, so far, remained mum on the issue despite requests for comment.