Philippines puts big casinos on money-laundering watch

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Philippines puts big casinos on money-laundering watch

Manila (AFP) - The Philippines said Wednesday it would monitor large transactions at casinos to curb money-laundering, after proceeds from an $81 million theft were funnelled through several gambling establishments last year.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law this week adding the gaming sector to monitored institutions.

Casinos must now report to the central bank's Anti-Money Laundering Council all transactions exceeding five million pesos (around $99,000).

The law authorises the council to obtain court orders freezing these funds for up to six months if it is suspected they were "in any way related to an unlawful activity".

Funds proven in a court trial to be related to crime will be forfeited to the state.

The Philippines passed its first anti-money laundering law in 2001 to avoid being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, a group of countries dedicated to keeping the international financial system off-limits to criminals.

The task force had since been calling on Manila to expand the institutions required to report suspicious transactions, in line with other task force members.

The original law only covered banks, trust entities, insurance companies, investment houses, securities dealers, moneychangers and money remittance firms.

Hackers stole $81 million from a US account of the Bangladesh central bank last year.

Most of the funds disappeared after being funnelled in February 2016 through a Philippine bank and several casinos

The Philippines has in recent years emerged as a gaming hub aiming to rival Las Vegas and Macau, with 2015 gross gaming revenues of about 133.3 billion pesos according to latest regulatory figures available.

Over the past four years three huge casinos costing at least a billion dollars each have risen on government-owned reclaimed land on Manila Bay called Entertainment City, with a fourth scheduled to open in 2019.