MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine Congress on Tuesday approved an amendment to a money laundering law to cover gambling, a move aimed at plugging loopholes that allowed $81 million (63 million pounds) stolen from Bangladesh to pass through casinos.
Voting separately, the House of Representatives and Senate passed on third and final readings similar bills expanding the existing anti-money laundering act to improve the legal framework against dirty money, making it compliant with global standards.
“We should move to be more transparent by amending the law to protect our casinos from money laundering by crime syndicates,” said Josephine Sato, one of the amended bill authors in the lower house.
The approved measure requires any casino transactions worth 5 million pesos ($100,500) to be reported to an anti-money laundering agency, including accumulated bets, Sato added.
Amending the law had been an uphill battle because of fierce lobbying by the gaming industry, according to lawmakers.
The Philippines has emerged as an Asian gambling hub and its casinos last year raked in 149 billion pesos in gross gaming revenue, data from the gaming regulator showed. Japanese gaming magnate Kazuo Okada is set to launch a $2.4 billion casino in Manila in July.
The main proponent of the bill in the upper house, Senator Francis Escudero, said internet and ship-based casinos were also covered under the amended version to ensure that the country will not be “used as a money laundering site for the proceeds of any unlawful activity”.
Both bills were passed on the second to last day of the regular session of Congress, beating the June deadline imposed by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering, a regional body with 41 member countries, for the Philippines to strengthen its laws.
The exclusion of casinos from the current scope of the anti-money laundering legislation and a strict bank secrecy law have made it difficult for authorities to track the Bangladesh money trail and identify the perpetrators.
Bangladesh’s central bank has retrieved just under a fifth of the stolen $81 million funds.
President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign the measure into law next month.
($1 = 50 pesos)
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie