Senator fears using PPE, medical supplies as newest money laundering instruments

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Senator Imee Marcos on Wednesday raised fears on the possibility that personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits, disinfectants, respirators, surgical tools, and future vaccines are becoming the newest instruments for money laundering.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, explained that the urgent and high global demand for medical supplies and equipment to fight the Covid-19 pandemic has led to more relaxed procurement processes and regulatory requirements by governments and private hospitals, making them vulnerable to financial fraud.

Marcos added that medical needs have presented new avenues for money laundering, with financial criminals evading detection in casino and real estate operations which have weakened due to pandemic restrictions on public gatherings and the lower demand for huge office spaces as work-from-home arrangements become the new norm.

“Amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act should not be outrun by these new developments,” Marcos said.

Marcos added that the measly Php2.5 billion budget for acquiring a vaccine next year could abet money laundering, as public clamor grows and government and private institutions seek to remedy inadequate supply.

The latest plenary report of the international money laundering watchdog, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), noted a growing incidence of financial fraud involving overpriced and counterfeit medical goods.

The Council of Europe’s monitoring body Moneyval has also cited fraud with medical equipment among the three types of financial crime that have increased amid the pandemic, including fraud and embezzlement related to economic relief measures and public procurement contracts.

Marcos filed Senate Bill 1545 to keep the Philippines out of the FATF’s dreaded Grey List of countries considered high risk for misuse of the international financial system.

The Marcos bill seeks to give the Anti-Money Laundering Council more teeth by granting it additional powers to monitor, investigate, and subpoena suspected financial criminals, as well as freeze their assets and conduct forfeiture proceedings without judicial intervention except by the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court.

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