In light of P900-M Bitcoin scam, Senate urged to pass cryptocurrency bill

Senator Leila M. de Lima has urged her fellow senators to push for the swift passage of her bill that seeks to impose stiffer penalties for crimes involving cryptocurrencies to prevent a repeat of the recent P900-million pyramiding “scam” disguised as a Bitcoin investment.

De Lima, a former justice secretary, said she hopes the legislative chamber will give priority to Senate Bill (SB) No. 1694 which she filed last month.

“I hope that this occurrence will push my esteemed colleagues in the Senate to take my proposed bill seriously and help pass it into law soon. Knowing that virtual currency resembles money, and that the possibilities in using it are endless, higher penalty for its use on illegal activities is necessary,” she said in a statement.

The senator added that “as legislators, we should not allow these kinds of crimes to go unnoticed and let the perpetrators easily get away with their evil schemes while fooling more people.”

According to De Lima, SB No. 1694 would allow all crimes defined in the Republic Act No. 3815 or the Revised Penal Code (RPC), when committed through and with the use of virtual currency, to have a penalty that is one degree higher than what is provided for by the RPC.

It may be recalled that last April 4, suspected con artist and operator of New G Bitcoin Investment Trading Arnel Ordonio and with his wife Leonady were arrested in an entrapment operation in Ilocos Sur by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

The suspects allegedly promoted NewG through social media and lured people to invest in their online business — which trades in Bitcoin — with a promise of a 30 percent return on investments with payouts every 15 days.

The couple reportedly lured more than 100 people to invest money into their investment scam, amassing up to P9 million.

De Lima reiterated that the criminal justice system must always be prepared in case virtual currency — like Bitcoins — would be used in unlawful activities anew.

“As I’ve mentioned before, our penal laws must adapt with the changing times and our criminal justice system must come prepared in the event like this,” she said.

De Lima noted that illegal activities involving virtual currency include “estafa where unscrupulous individuals entice unsuspecting people to purchase fake bitcoins, sending a virtual currency as payment for child pornography, or a public officer agreeing to perform an act in consideration of payment in bitcoins (direct bribery).”

Considering that there were only two people involved in the supposed investment scam, De Lima said she also hopes for the swift passage of her bill seeking to lower the number of persons involved for the crime of syndicated estafa or other forms of swindling to be punishable by life imprisonment.

“No matter how small or big a group, same punishment must be given. It should never be easy to escape after stealing the hard-earned money of other people,” she said.

Senate Bill (SB) No. 959 seeks to amend Section 1 of the 36-year-old Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1689 which reduces from five to two persons involved to qualify for syndicated estafa. Under Section 1 of PD 1689, syndicated estafa and other forms of swindling shall be punishable by life imprisonment to death if it is committed by a syndicate consisting of five or more persons.

The measure, however, seeks to reduce the minimum number from five to two people involved to qualify as crime of syndicated estafa.

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