BB Cyber Heist: Govt won't share probe findings with Manila

Muhith says RCBC liable for returning the stolen cash

The finance minister yesterday refused to share with the Philippines government the findings of a probe report on the Bangladesh Bank reserve heist, saying that “it's internal”.

Firstly, the government did not receive any formal letter from the Philippines on sharing the probe report. “Secondly, it's an internal report; so it can't be given,” AMA Muhith told journalists after a meeting with the law minister and the central bank governor at the secretariat.

The finance minister's comments came after a Reuters report that Manila wants Dhaka to share the findings of its investigation into how unknown hackers pulled off one of the world's largest cyber bank heists, to help speed up recovery of the stolen funds.

According to Reuters, Philippines Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who last week met with a Bangladesh delegation, said Manila “strongly recommended” Dhaka share the results of its investigation. He assured the Bangladesh team that his government was doing everything it could to find Bangladesh's missing money.

Cyber criminals tried to steal nearly $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank in February and made off with $81 million via the BB account at the New York Federal Reserve. That money was transferred to four accounts with false names at an RCBC branch in Manila before vanishing.

“We are pursuing the lawsuits on your behalf as vigorously as we can,” Dominguez was quoted in a statement as telling the delegation.

Bangladesh Bank has declined to disclose the findings of its own inquiry, saying it wanted to deny perpetrators the knowledge of the investigation.

Most of the money was laundered through Philippines casinos. About $15 million recovered from a gaming junket operator has been returned to Bangladesh, with a further $2.7 million frozen, according to Reuters.

The finance minister, however, said the frozen amount by the Philippines Supreme Court is $29 million and the government's efforts would be to get back the money.

Muhith said there was an understanding that the RCBC would return the stolen money.

“The RCBC is liable to return the money that was laundered through it. So, we are not accepting the statement of the RCBC at all ... and we are not giving importance to what the RCBC is saying,” he said replying to queries.

“It is our right to get back the stolen money and we have to honor the court order ... I think our position is absolutely morally correct, and the RCBC will have to obey it.”

Referring to the meeting between law ministers of the two countries, Muhith said the Philippines president also stated that the money stolen through the RCBC would be returned to Bangladesh.

The Philippines government did not also consider the statement of the RCBC, he said.

The Reuters report adds: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who had earlier pledged the stolen money would be returned, canceled a meeting with the Bangladesh team because of “pressing matters”.

Asked if the findings of the probe would be shared with the Philippines government, Bangladesh's ambassador in Manila, John Gomes, said: “No one asked us anything yet.”

But the Philippines central bank deputy governor Nestor Espenilla said Manila had received an assurance from Bangladesh it would provide an “initial update” since the investigation was not yet finished.

Bangladesh has said it wanted the RCBC, or the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC), to compensate it for its losses, but the RCBC refuses to pay and has said the Bangladesh central bank was “negligent”.

Bangladesh's Law Minister Anisul Huq last week said the RCBC should shoulder the burden for accepting stolen funds. The RCBC was fined a record one billion pesos ($20 million) by the Philippines central bank for its failure to prevent the movement of the stolen Bangladesh money through its bank. Huq said paying that fine was tantamount to accepting culpability.

An anti-money laundering body last month filed charges against five RCBC officials in connection with the theft.

No arrests have been made despite investigations by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, Interpol, Bangladesh police and authorities in the Philippines.


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