SURIGAO del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers on Tuesday enjoined his colleagues in crafting and enacting 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 in the recently-concluded 17th Congress, said 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 apparently 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,” said Barbers.
“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,” Barbers added.
Barbers said it is similar to a scheme employed earlier by drug syndicates and other crime groups whose gang members are being “shipped” via chartered planes in 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. Eh, ‘di nalabada at nalinis na nila ‘yung drug money nila,” he explained.
The lawmaker from Surigao del Norte 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.