The China connection in the Bangladesh Bank heist (Part 1 of 2) http://www.manilatimes.net/the-china-connection-in-the-bangladesh-bank-heist-part-1-of-2/401893/ BY BEN KRITZ, TMTON MAY 29, 2018BUSINESS COLUMNS Twitter Ben D. Kritz WHEN the Senate “Blue Ribbon” committee held hearings on the Bangladesh Bank-RCBC scandal in early April 2016, one of the most anticipated witnesses was a colorful “businessman” of Chinese origin, Kam Sin Wong, otherwise known as Kim Wong. According to testimony from other witnesses, Wong, who had absented himself from the country for “a medical procedure” just as the story of the $81 million heist broke, had handled about $52 million of the stolen funds after they were extracted from the RCBC accounts, of which $21 million was passed through his own casino, the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. in the Cagayan Economic Zone in Northern Luzon, and $31 million delivered to him personally in cash by RCBC branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito and another mysterious Chinese man named Xu Weikang. Speculation is that Wong’s “medical trip” was for the purpose of conferring with his co-conspirators – or to get instructions – on what story to tell when he returned to the Philippines, now that the scheme had been discovered. Whatever his activities abroad, the story Wong had prepared to tell when he returned was so patently spurious that possibly nobody but a Philippine senator would believe it. After disputing the amount he had supposedly received from the stolen funds, Wong claimed ignorance of their provenance. The money he received, he said, which was only about $14 million, was partly a repayment of a $10 million debt for gambling losses owed to him by a business acquaintance, a junket operator from China named Gao Shuhua. The balance – the additional $4 million or so he’d received personally and the $21 million he vaguely acknowledged had passed through his casino’s accounts, but said had been distributed for junket operations in other places – was, as far as he’d been told, money that Gao and a business partner named Ding Zhize intended to invest in the casino business in the Philippines. Wong said he had met Gao in 2007, and that the latter had told him he and Ding had encountered difficulties in trying to set up a business in Macau. Needing a bank for his and Ding’s planned business investment in the Philippines, Gao asked Wong for a recommendation, and Wong introduced him to RCBC branch manager Maia Deguito at a lunch meeting at Wong’s office inside the Midas Hotel and Casino in May 2015. Deguito had come to mind, Wong said, because she had repeatedly pestered him to open an account whenever he bumped into her – he offered no other details as to how they’d met in the first place, or why their paths seemed to cross frequently – and that it was she and Gao who ginned up the four fictitious dollar deposit accounts that eventually received the money from Bangladesh. The next time he heard from Gao, Wong told the Senate panel, was on February 4, 2016 – the day of the heist – when Gao introduced him to his partner Ding and informed him that a large sum of money would be arriving the next day, asking Wong to keep tabs on its progress. Wong did so, calling the bank several times to inquire about the deposits, and on the evening of February 5 at Solaire Casino took delivery of P80 million from Philrem President Michael Bautista, who had been dispatched there by Deguito, and later P20 million delivered by Deguito herself (Philrem’s Michael and Salud Bautista had earlier said most of the money had been handled by Xu). In addition, Wong explained, Bautista had delivered P300 million plus $5 million to him in several installments between February 10 and February 14. Wong, playing the unwitting honest businessman role to the hilt, said that he had been shocked and distressed to discover he’d been duped into becoming involved in the heist by Gao and Ding, and offered to return $15 million of the money. The rest, unfortunately, had already disappeared. Wong and his attorneys later delivered the money to the safekeeping of the BSP in what turned out to be a minor media circus, even involving the rather comical discovery that one of the P1,000 bills in the large pile of currency was a counterfeit, which one of the attorneys replaced with one from his own wallet. After some legalistic mucking around by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) over a “forfeiture order,” the money was eventually handed over to the Bangladesh authorities, and to this day is still the only part of the stolen $81 million that has been recovered. Despite Wong’s self-serving and dubious sounding story, he and the mysterious Xu Weikang were quickly exempted from any criminal charges by the Department of Justice for lack of evidence in late April 2016, shortly after the Senate hearings ended. That decision was confirmed in September of that year by the DoJ under President Rodrigo Duterte’s first Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre. The Bangladesh-RCBC scandal was not the first time Kim Wong had been in the public spotlight for his involvement, tangential or otherwise, in some kind of scandal. In August 2001, he appeared before a different Senate hearing investigating allegations of drug connections involving Senator Panfilo Lacson during Lacson’s stint as head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. Then-Intelligence Chief Col. Victor Corpus had linked Wong, whom he accused of being involved in the drug trade, even implicating him in the murder of drug informant, to Lacson, but lost credibility when he showed the Senate committee a picture of someone he misidentified as Wong. Corpus was mocked in the press and the committee’s final report for having “the wrong Wong,” and the case evaporated. But one thing it did accomplish was to reveal the extensive web of friendly connections Kim Wong had established with the PNP and numerous political personalities. That intimate and cordial relationship with the Philippines’ power structure and ability to make useful connections – including an acquaintance with eventual RCBC head Lorenzo V. Tan, dating back to at least 2002 – made Wong a perfect manager for the collection operation of the stolen funds once they reached the Philippines. Wong, who had come to this country at age 11 from Hong Kong (in interviews, he has been somewhat vague about his origins), was a typical Chinese entrepreneurial success story; opportunistic and hard-working, he shunned formal schooling for commerce, and had built up a string of restaurant businesses in Manila by the time he landed in the public spotlight in 2001. By 2004, he was involved in the lucrative casino junket trade in Clark, and by 2006 had, along with some partners, set up the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. in CEZA. One of those investors was Gao Shuhua, a notorious gambling racketeer from Beijing who had just been released from prison in China and was looking for greener pastures beyond the reach of the humorless Chinese authorities. His story and that of his equally colorful partner Ding Zhize is covered in the next installment of this tale.