Atiur faces heat

Muhith hints at changes in BB management; govt decides to form 4-member body to probe $101m heist from BB account with New York Fed

Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman yesterday faced criticism from government high-ups and a number of ruling party leaders for “incompetent handling” of the cyber theft.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith was furious, and hinted that the top management of the BB may see changes as the fallout of the theft of $101 million from the BB account with the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

“We are going to make a major decision,” he told reporters at the secretariat after the weekly cabinet meeting yesterday.

Asked what the major decision would be, Muhith said, “Definitely, there will be a major change.”

The minister made the comment in response to a query whether the government would take any action against the BB.

The BB governor has been criticised particularly for keeping the government in the dark about the matter for more than a month.

Questions were raised over Atiur's decision to travel to New Delhi to attend an event of the International Monetary Fund at a time when mysteries around the cyber theft were unfolding.    

Yesterday, Muhith told reporters that a decision about the “major change” would be made public by 4:00pm after a meeting with Atiur.

When the minister made the comment, Atiur was on his way back to Dhaka from New Delhi. The BB governor went to the Indian capital on March 10 to attend a three-day meeting of the IMF.

Atiur was supposed to meet Muhith immediately after his return home. But the meeting didn't take place as the BB chief was “tired”, said a BB official seeking anonymity.

The governor would meet the finance minister today, and this was communicated to the minister, said the official.

In the afternoon, Shahedur Rahman, senior public relations officer of the finance ministry, told reporters that the finance minister would hold a press conference at 11:00am today, and brief the media about the cyber heist.

Meanwhile, the government decided to form a four-member committee to investigate the cyber theft that took place on February 4 midnight.

Mohammed Farashuddin, a former governor of the central bank, might be made the head of the probe body if he agrees to take the responsibility, said a finance ministry official. 

A BB source said an emergency meeting of the BB board, which was scheduled for today, was postponed, as the finance minister would hold a meeting with the finance and banking secretaries -- both members of the BB board -- at 4:00pm today.

On Sunday, Banking Secretary M Aslam Alam told reporters that the BB board would hold an emergency meeting to discuss the issue and decide on the next course of action.

The same day, Muhith publicly vented his anger on the BB for keeping him in the dark for more than a month about the theft, and said he would take action against the BB.

“I am very unhappy about the handling of the matter by Bangladesh Bank... very incompetent,” he said.

A number of ministers and Awami League leaders also slammed the BB governor, saying he cannot shirk his responsibility. 

Meanwhile, the newly appointed Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Iqbal Mahmud, said they are keeping a close watch on the ongoing investigations by law enforcement agencies and the BB into the reserve heist.

“The ACC is an independent commission. Wherever there is corruption, it will carry out a probe,” he told reporters when asked whether the ACC would investigate the incident.

The Philippines' Anti-Money Laundering Council said it is preparing charges against a number of people allegedly involved in the illegal transfer of more than $80 million from the BB account with the Federal Reserve Bank.

Besides, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Teresita Herbosa called on the Congress to further strengthen the country's Anti-Money Laundering Act, reported the Rappler, a news outlet in the Philippines.

Herbosa hoped the government would be able to recover the $81 million that had been traced to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and three large casinos.

 "I am sure somehow, some of it will be recovered. I am an optimistic person and I believe in the rule of law,” Herbosa said.

In a press release yesterday, the Transparency International Bangladesh expressed concern that the BB did not immediately inform its board and the government about the cyber theft.


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