Philippines launches criminal proceedings against six bankers over Bangladesh central bank heist

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines said on Wednesday (Nov 23) it has launched criminal proceedings against six bankers accused of failing to stop the laundering of tens of millions of dollars stolen by cyber-criminals from Bangladesh's central bank.

The electronic thieves in February shifted US$81 million (S$115.69 million) from the bank's account with the US Federal Reserve in New York to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) in Manila in one of the world's biggest bank heists.

The money was transferred to four accounts at an RCBC branch from where it was funnelled into local casinos, according to regulators who fined the bank a record US$21 million in August.

Manila's Anti-Money Laundering Council said it filed a criminal complaint at the justice department against RCBC's retail banking group head at the time, its national sales director and four other bank officials.

"The... respondent officers and employees of RCBC facilitated the suspicious transactions involving the four accounts above, by failing to conduct the requisite investigations and enquiries into the accounts," it read.

The complaint, filed on Friday (Nov 18), also cited the Filipino respondents' alleged "deliberate refusal to know the unlawful origins of the funds".

Justice department prosecutors will decide, based on evidence presented by the money laundering watchdog, whether to file criminal charges in court against the six.

The offence carries a maximum prison term of seven years and fines of up to three million pesos (about S$85,695).

No one has been arrested in the Philippines over the heist, but the government has recovered about US$15 million, some of it from a Manila-based casino operator who has pledged to cooperate with the criminal enquiry.

The recovered funds have been turned over to Bangladesh Bank.

The brazen cyber heist highlighted how the Philippines' banking loopholes have made the corruption-prone nation a dirty money destination.

Philippine law exempts casino transactions from scrutiny by the anti-money laundering council unless a case has been filed in court.