Bangladesh to sue Philippine bank over US$81 million cyber heist

Unidentified hackers stole US$81 million (S$109.5 million) from the Bangladesh central bank's account with the US Federal Reserve in New York in February 2016.
Unidentified hackers stole US$81 million (S$109.5 million) from the Bangladesh central bank's account with the US Federal Reserve in New York in February 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh will on Wednesday (Jan 30) file a lawsuit in New York against a Philippine bank over its involvement in one of the biggest-ever cyber heists, the country's central bank governor said.

Unidentified hackers stole US$81 million (S$109.5 million) from the Bangladesh central bank's account with the US Federal Reserve in New York in February 2016.

The money was then transferred to a Manila branch of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC), swiftly withdrawn and laundered through local casinos.

A case will be filed against RCBC and "all others" involved in the heist to try and retrieve the stolen funds, Bangladesh central bank governor Fazle Kabir told AFP.

An agreement between the bank and the US Federal Reserve in New York had been signed to assist Dhaka in the case, he added.

Bangladesh has sent a legal team to New York and is prepared to fight for the money to be returned, Kabir told reporters in the capital Dhaka.

The Philippines in 2016 imposed a record US$21 million fine on RCBC after investigating its role in the audacious cyber heist.

 
 
 

The bank has rejected the allegations and in 2017 accused Bangladesh's central bank of a "massive cover-up".

This month, former RCBC manager Maia Deguito was handed a lengthy jail term and US$109 million in fines in the first conviction over the massive theft.

Deguito, who was a branch manager where the money landed, was accused of coordinating the illegal transfer.

She plans to file an appeal and can remain free on bail until the conviction is finalised.

Deguito is the only person who has been convicted in the case, drawing international concern.

The theft exposed the Philippines as a haven for dirty money, where some of the world's strictest bank secrecy laws protect account holders from scrutiny. The hackers bombarded the US Federal Reserve with dozens of transfer requests, attempting to steal a further US$850 million.

But the bank's security systems and typing errors in some requests prevented the full theft.

The hack took place on a Friday, when Bangladesh's central bank is closed. The Federal Reserve is closed on Saturday and Sunday, slowing the response.

The US Federal Reserve, which manages the Bangladesh central bank account, has denied its own systems were breached.