Owners of ‘Bangla heist’ accounts win in court

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has denied the bid by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to maintain the asset preservation orders (APO) previously issued by a Manila trial court against the bank accounts of entities linked to the 2016 Bangladesh heist.

In a 32-page decision penned by Associate Justice Fernanda Lampas-Peralta, the CA’s Second Division held that the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila City did not gravely abuse discretion in granting respondents motions to discharge the APO covering their frozen accounts. These respondents are Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co. Ltd. and Kam Sin Wong, QiaQiao Wendy Wang and Dong Na Xu, owners of the accounts.

These accounts were allegedly used to funnel part of $81 million stolen by cyber thieves from the central bank of Bangladesh in 2016.

“Anent the contention that respondent trial court committed grave abuse of discretion in granting motions to discharge APO as there was a ‘probable cause that private respondents’ bank accounts were related to the unlawful activity of hacking,’ it suffices to state that the main case is still pending before respondent trial court,” the CA noted.

“That case is the proper proceeding to ventilate the issue of whether there is probable cause that private respondents’ bank accounts were related to the unlawful activity of hacking, among others,” it added.

The CA directed the trial court to resolve with dispatch and to consolidate the civil forfeiture cases filed against “Eastern Hawaii and Kam” (AMLC Case 16-003-53) and “QiaoQiao Wendy Wang, Dong Na Xu and Eastern Hawaii“ (AMLC Case 17-001-53).

It can be recalled that on October 16, 2019, the trial court granted respondents’ motions to discharge the APOs due to AMLC’s failure to show evidence that the subject bank accounts of the respondents were opened for the purpose of hacking the Bangladesh Bank.

It also held that the AMLC failed to prove that the respondents connived with Philrem Service Corp. in committing an unlawful activity and that the entity had prior knowledge that the P1 billion remitted by the former belonged to the central bank of Bangladesh.

Eastern Hawaii and Kam were only able to surrender P488.28 million. The trial court noted that the AMLC failed to refute private respondents’ evidence showing that the unreturned amounts were gambled away by casino junket operator Gao Shu Hua and his players at Midas Oriental Casino.

Kam earlier claimed that the funds were abandoned by Gao Shu Hua at Solaire Resort and Casino and Midas Oriental Casino where the stolen money from the Bangladesh Bank was supposedly funneled.

Furthermore, the court noted that the private respondents were neither accused nor convicted in the criminal cases for violation of Republic Act 11521, or the Anti-Money Laundering Act. In fact, the criminal complaint for violation of AMLA against Kam was dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.

Covered by the CA ruling were: Eastern Hawaii’s bank account in the Philippine National Bank  with P4.46 million; Wong’s PNB account amounting to P5.74 million; QiaoQiao’s PNB account amounting to P686,425; and, Dong’s PNB accounts totaling to more than P61 million.