Money laundering thru POGOs feared

A MINDANAOAN solon wants a measure that will prevent POGOs being used for money laundering by drug syndicates and other crime groups.

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has enjoined his colleagues in the crafting and enactment of laws that would regulate and prevent offshore online gaming firms from being used as a money laundering tool by local and foreign big-time drug syndicates and other crime groups.

Barbers, chairman of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs, said that while the Philippine government, particularly the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), sees only the economic benefit angles of e-gaming, it appears blind to the possibility that it may be used by drug syndicates and other crime groups to launder their money here in the Philippines.

“I have read reports on how the Italian and Sicilian mafias have used the on-line gaming as a tool or scheme to launder their illegally obtained monies. They invested funds in Malta to operate huge on-line gaming firms where they launder their money,” Barbers  said.

“Under this scheme, the Italy and Sicily-based syndicates would bet huge amounts of money on the on-line gaming firms which they themselves set up in Malta. And via long or short-term on-line betting games, they would of course win, in millions of dollars or in Euros. They would be issued receipts or other proofs that they’ve won by their own dummy online gaming firms, and voila, their illicit or laundered money now becomes clean money,” he added.

According to Barbers this is similar to a scheme employed earlier by drug syndicates and other crime groups whose gang members are being “shipped” via chartered planes to some of the country’s airports, and later brought to the PAGCOR-operated casinos.

“Karamihan dito mga iligalistang China and Taiwan nationals. Pag-dating sa casino, ipapalit nila ito ng mga chips. Yung ibang chips, ipupusta nila, pero karamihan, hindi. Days later, iwi-withdraw nila ito into cash, with proper receipts from the casino. Pagbalik nila sa bansa nila, dala na nila ang kanilang laundered money at sasabihin na nanalo sila sa casino. E, di nalabada at nalinis na nila yung drug money nila,” he explained.

The solon said his fears that drug syndicates would use these on-line firms as their ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) is not farfetched or a remote possibility and Congress should pass laws or enact measures to ensure that this would not happen in the Philippines.

Reports said that PAGCOR, which grants foreign online casino operators in the so-called Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) franchise, was expecting additional revenue of P6 billion this year.

But as of July this year, the BIR has collected only P200 million from foreigners – mostly Chinese – working in the country. The Department of Finance earlier said they could collect P2 billion a month in taxes from POGO workers.

PAGCOR conceptualized POGO to enable the Philippine government to capture a greater share of the growing, yet previously unregulated, online gaming pie.

Reports said there are now more than 300,000 Chinese nationals that are currently employed in the POGO firms scattered all over the country, and the government has slim, or no way of knowing if these individuals are shabu chemists, unscrupulous personalities from their country, or military officers.

With Jezreel Biscocho