Exclusive: Bangladesh officials visit Manila to seek recovery of bank heist money

Tue Aug 2, 2016 12:48am EDT
 
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By Krishna N. Das, Serajul Quadir and Karen Lema

DHAKA/MANILA (Reuters) - Officials from the Bangladesh central bank are visiting Manila this week to pressure the authorities in the Philippines to find ways to return the $63 million that is still missing out of the funds stolen from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York earlier this year, two people close to Bangladesh Bank said.

Unknown cyber criminals tried to steal nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank account between Feb. 4 and Feb. 5, and succeeded in transferring $81 million to four accounts at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp RCB.PS (RCBC) in Manila. Only about $18 million has been recovered.

The Bangladeshi officials are alleging that the money was allowed to disappear into the casino industry in the Philippines, where investigators say it was laundered, because of systemic failures at RCBC, the two sources said.

Bangladesh Bank is relying on internal RCBC documents to buttress its assertion that the Filipino bank’s Jupiter Street branch in Manila ignored suspicions raised by some RCBC officials when the money was first remitted to the accounts on Feb. 5, and then delayed acting on requests from RCBC’s head office to freeze the funds on Feb. 9, said one of the sources in Dhaka.

RCBC did not respond to requests for comment, but its then president Lorenzo Tan told a Senate hearing in March that the incident was "some judgment error from the people on the ground".

"I think what happened here is we had the IT controls, the human controls. But unfortunately, it failed in the end, in the execution," said Tan, who subsequently resigned. "Yes, we are sorry this happened, but you know, it is human error, human judgment or intentional."

The Bangladeshi delegation consists of Debaprosad Debnath and Abdul Rab from Bangladesh Bank's financial intelligence unit, Bangladesh Bank lawyer Ajmalul Hossain, and Bangladesh's ambassador to the Philippines, John Gomes. They plan to meet with officials from the anti-money-laundering council in Manila, the Philippines' department of justice, the central bank of the Philippines and from RCBC over the next four days, said the sources.

Bangladesh Bank spokesman Subhankar Saha declined to say if the bank had plans to sue RCBC, but added it was trying to recover the money with the help of the Philippines' central bank.   Continued...

 
Commuters pass by the front of the Bangladesh central bank building in Dhaka March 8, 2016.       REUTERS/Ashikur Rahman/File Photo