Lawyer Says FBI Immunity Offer Rejected in $81 Million HeistBy
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A Philippine banker accused of helping to launder $81 million of stolen Bangladesh foreign reserves has been offered immunity from U.S. prosecution by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a proposal that her lawyer said had been rejected.
Talks between Maia Santos Deguito, a former Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch manager, and the FBI ended in a stalemate because the offer was “inadequate” to protect her interests, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said by telephone on Thursday. She has previously denied any wrongdoing.
“There were so many qualifications in the FBI offer that it amounted to no immunity at all and my client rejected it on my advice,” he said.
The U.S. agency is part of a global investigation to pin down the culprits behind one of the largest bank heists in modern history. Thieves hacked into the Bangladesh central bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February, funneled the funds to accounts at Rizal Bank in the Philippines, before most of the money disappeared through local casinos.
Deguito is accused by the Philippine anti-money laundering agency and the Bangladesh Bank of allowing the funds to be withdrawn on Feb. 5 and Feb. 9, despite requests from the central bank to halt the transfers. Philippine government prosecutors are investigating Deguito, who hasn’t been charged, and at least four other people for money laundering, which carries a maximum jail term of 14 years in the Southeast Asian nation.
The FBI wanted Deguito to share details about Kim Wong, a casino junket operator who had returned almost $15 million of the stolen funds to the Anti-Money Laundering Council, Topacio said. There were discussions to relocate Deguito and her family to the U.S., he said.
The offer of immunity was reported by Reuters earlier. Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Manila, couldn’t immediately be reached by phone for comment.
Philippine lawmakers ended a two-month investigation into the disappearance of the stolen funds in May without naming any people responsible for the heist. Instead, a Senate committee sought changes to a law protecting the secrecy of bank deposits and recommended that casinos be monitored for possible money laundering.
A Philippine court earlier this month ordered that the almost $15 million of recovered funds be released to Bangladesh. In August, the Philippine central bank fined Rizal Bank about $21 million for violating banking rules in connection with the theft, the largest penalty meted out to a lender by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.