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Bangladesh upbeat about chance of recovering stolen $81M

Ambassador John Gomes, seen here in April 2016 interview with INTERAKSYON.COM FILE PHOTO means BUSINESS

MANILA - Bangladesh may soon get part of the stolen $81 million following a court order to forfeit the $15 million that junket operator Kim Wong returned to the Anti-money Laundering Council in the course of the Senate's two-month hearings on money laundering.

Bangladesh Ambassador to Manila John Gomes noted that "there's already a partial judgment  - where it is more or less agreed in court that this money should be returned to Bangladesh, so that's a very positive step so that part is already decided. [The ] only thing is now we have to claim it."

In keeping with domestic laws, the government of Bangladesh will still have to formally claim the money and satisfy the court that it is the rightful owner of the funds.

And as a separate state, international laws on mutual legal assistance will apply, wherein the Department of Justice will go to court on behalf of the government of Bangladesh.

Ricardo V. Paras III, chief state counsel at DOJ, pointed out that Manila does not have a treaty with Bangladesh, "so everything still has to be authenticated." Bangladesh, he said, is  "complying with it. I was informed the authenticated forms are already with the Department of Foreign Affairs, that they are requesting us to assist them in the recovery of the funds."

This adds a waiting period to the process but one that Bangladesh completely understands.

Gomes said "similar things would have happened in Bangladesh also. We would not have just returned the money just like that. As they have said, what will happen if there's a claimant."

While $15 million will be repatriated in one or two months, the Bangladeshi ambassador is currently lobbying senators for another round of Senate hearings to help them recoup the rest of the money.

"I don't believe that it's not possible to recover the money," said Gomes.

He stressed that "going to jail . . . is not our issue," adding that Dhaka is not interested about who in the Philippines will be sent to prisons. "Who's going to jail and who's not going to jail -- why should that be my problem? That is the problem of the Justice Department. My issue is the money, that belongs to me. Who is responsible? that is up to the Philippine government to identify and take them to task." 

Despite the change in government, the envoy said they are confident that they will recover the stolen funds in full, banking on an assurance that President Duterte made to him during his courtesy call last month.

"If the President is so serious about crime and corruption. then I feel that this is an issue which should be addressed also because this is also a crime committed against another country," Gomes said.

Apart from the $15 million, Gomes said he is also optimistic that another $2.75 million that AMLC has recovered  from Pagcor and Solaire will be returned very soon to their government.