BB to sue Rizal bank over heist

Bangladesh Bank cyber heist
A security guard is seen outside a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation in the Philippines. File Photo: Reuters

Bangladesh Bank has decided to sue the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation of the Philippines for its role in the cyber heist of $81 million from the central bank's account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2016.

“We will file a case against RCBC in two to three months' time with a New York Court,” Abu Hena Mohd Razee Hassan, a deputy governor of the central bank, told reporters at a briefing held at the BB headquarters yesterday.

A proposal has been sent to SWIFT and the New York Fed in this regard but they are yet to respond.

“If SWIFT and New York Fed do not join us, we will go ahead with the case,” he said, adding that the central bank is now working to prepare the supporting documents to file the case against the bank. 

Based on other countries' experience, it might take 5-13 years to get back the money under the 'Stolen Asset Recovery' process, he said.

On February 4, 2016, hackers broke into the BB's systems and generated 70 fake payment orders for the NY Fed to draw about $1.94 billion.

While the NY Fed's security system flagged the payment orders, five of them fell through, and $101 million against them was released. Of the amount, $81 million was wired to the Philippines (RCBC branch in Manila) and $20 million to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka sent back the entire sum immediately and the Philippines just $15 million in November 2016.

Of the $67 million yet to be retrieved, the Philippines authorities could trace $52.50 million, which is now in possession of several individuals and companies.

The matter is now pending with different courts and authorities, he said, adding that holders of the remaining $14.50 million could not be traced. Asked why the central bank would file the case at the US court and not the Philippines, he said both the SWIFT and NY Fed are in New York and RCBC has a number of subsidiaries there.

In reply to a question, he said that it is not yet possible to reveal the names of those involved in the heist from Bangladesh as the Criminal Investigation Department has not wrapped up its investigation into the transnational crime.

The CID has sought information from several countries about the suspects but only the Philippines have responded so far.

Ajmalul Hossain, the central bank's legal adviser in the case, said that as many as 15 to 20 employees, including top officials, of the RCBC are involved in the scam.

While the bank initially froze the sum terming it as suspicious transaction, it later released the funds to different vested persons, he said.

“This proves RCBC's institutional involvement in the scam,” he added.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister AMA Muhith told reporters after a meeting with the purchase committee at the cabinet division that the case has been discussed with some lawyers in New York and it will be filed there.

The NY Fed may be a party in the case on behalf of Bangladesh.

About Mohammed Farashuddin-led Committee's report, Muhith said it would not be published now.

“No decision has yet been taken about when the report will be published.”