'Two Chinese men moved US$81m stolen from Bangladesh reserves'

Casino junket operator Wong, dubbed the 'missing link' in the heist, is another person under probe.
Casino junket operator Wong, dubbed the 'missing link' in the heist, is another person under probe.

MANILA • Two Chinese men were responsible for moving US$81 million (S$111 million) stolen by hackers from Bangladesh's foreign reserves into Philippine casinos, an inquiry in Manila heard yesterday.

Following the heist, the millions stolen from the Bangladesh central bank's American accounts on Feb 5 were immediately sent via electronic transfer to a Philippine bank.

The dollar accounts where the stolen funds landed were reportedly opened by two men - Mr Sua Hua Gao from Beijing and a Macau associate identified only as Mr Ding - in Manila's Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) nine months before the theft.

"Two foreigners were responsible for bringing in the US$81 million," casino junket operator Kim Wong said at a Senate hearing in Manila.

Of the US$81 million in stolen funds, US$63 million was wired to the Midas and Solaire casinos, and the remaining US$18 million was sent to remittance company Philrem Service Corp, according to Mr Wong, who has been dubbed the "missing link" in the cyber heist.

A portion of the money was later converted into Philippine pesos and deposited into Mr Wong's account at the mega-casino where the junket operator is based, Filipino investigators have alleged. Mr Wong said he did not know that the money was stolen from Bangladesh's foreign reserves, which were kept at the United States Federal Reserve in New York.

Mr Wong and another Chinese casino junket operator, Mr Weikang Xu, are under criminal investigation by Philippine prosecutors for their alleged role in laundering the proceeds of the heist.

Mr Wong said he was told last month by the duo that "money was coming" to the five RCBC accounts.

The authorities said the cyber heist occurred a day later. RCBC has admitted the accounts, through which the allegedly stolen money was deposited, were opened under fictitious names.

Mr Wong's testimony appears to shed some light on the brazen caper that has forced Bangladesh Bank governor Atiur Rahman to resign and highlighted how the Philippines has become a money-laundering destination due to loose regulation of its casinos.

Philippine law exempts casino transactions from scrutiny by the country's anti-money laundering council without a case filed in court.

Mr Wong described Mr Sua as a "big junket operator" who was 450 million pesos (S$13.3 million) in debt at Manila's Solaire, one of the Philippines' biggest casinos.

Mr Wong said the high roller told him he would use the RCBC dollar accounts to transfer money to pay off his debt.

"He said he was selling property in China," Mr Wong told the hearing.

Mr Wong added that Mr Ding said he was planning to invest in the Philippines because "casinos in Macau are struggling".

The current whereabouts of the two Chinese nationals is unknown.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline ''Two Chinese men moved US$81m stolen from Bangladesh reserves''. Print Edition | Subscribe