MANILA, Philippines — “Small” amounts of money entered local bank accounts of a person with ties to a German payments firm, escalating the Philippines’ probe of billions in cash missing on the company’s books that has spawned into a global accounting scandal.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is now investigating “certain individuals” because of transactions that showed “monies entered the local account of a person in the Philippines who has links with Wirecard,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Wednesday.
“We can’t really say for now if it’s really money laundering because the amounts involved are small,” he said in a text message. More information will be available in “a few days.”
Whether the amounts are connected to the missing $2.1 billion from the company at the center of an accounting scandal remains unclear, although no less than Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno denied any of the cash entered the local financial system, based on “initial” central bank report.
Four years since $81 million was lost in a cyber-heist involving a local bank, the Philippines is finding itself involved in another controversy, which has swiftly evolved since fake bank documents brought the fund search of Wirecard AG’s external auditors here in Manila.
The lenders allegedly involved, BDO Unibank Inc. and Bank of the Philippine Islands, already denied holding the 1.9 billion euros said to have been diverted to escrow accounts. They were backed by Diokno last week, who said the lenders were merely used “in an attempt to cover the perpetrators’ track.”
That said, BDO and BPI have also either suspended or fired employees found to have forged bank documents to show the subject funds were being kept in the Philippines.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council, the secretariat of which did not respond to request for comment on Wednesday, already said the agency stands ready to assist foreign counterparts that may look for the money, which Wirecard is now saying potentially did not exist at all.
Up to today, the ongoing investigation has centered on the “spurious” documents reproduced by certain bank workers.
“Upon consultation with the BSP governor, I have directed the NBI to investigate certain individuals who are reportedly involved in the Wirecard case in Germany…,” Guevarra said, without citing names of those under probe.
Search on for Wirecard COO
Apart from the investigation, authorities are also looking for Jan Marsalek, the company’s erstwhile chief operating officer, who was dismissed on Monday by Wirecard and now appears to be staying in the Philippines.
Immigration records showed Marsalek, in fact, entered Manila last March 3 but departed after two days in March 5. “However, there are some indications that he may have returned recently and may still be here,” said Guevarra, who has supervisory powers over NBI and the Bureau of Immigration (BI)..
“I have ordered the BI to conduct an immediate investigation,” he pointed out, saying authorities found “something curious in the BI database.” He did not elaborate.
Asked if his office will ask a local court to issue a hold departure order against Marsalek if NBI agents locate him here, Guevarra said: “Too early to answer that.” — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag
SIGN UP TO RECEIVE OUR EMAIL
The most important news of the day about the ASEAN Countries and the world in one email: [email protected]