WHAT WENT BEFORE: Bangladesh cyberheist
In November 2016, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) filed money laundering charges against former Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) officials over the $81-million cyberheist on the Bangladesh central bank, one of the world’s largest online crimes.
Charged were former bank treasurer Raul Tan, three retail banking officials and two workers at the branch where cash was withdrawn. The complaint said they “willfully ignored” suspicious activity that led to tens of millions of dollars vanishing after the heist.
On Feb. 4, 2016, hackers, who had yet to be identified, initiated fraudulent transfer orders to move more than $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, mostly to accounts at RCBC.
Many of the transfer orders were blocked or reversed by intermediary banks, but $81 million made it to accounts with fake names at RCBC.
The money was channeled to a foreign exchange dealer, Philrem Service Corp., and transferred to accounts at other banks and to local casinos before being moved out of the country.
During a Senate investigation in April 2016, Maia Santos-Deguito, former manager of RCBC’s Jupiter Street branch in Makati City that held the fake bank accounts where the stolen money from Bangladesh Bank was deposited, claimed she was acting on orders of top RCBC officials.
Deguito said the officials had directed her to facilitate the transaction, specifically its then president Lorenzo Tan and treasurer Raul Tan. Both officials have since left the bank.
At a Senate hearing, casino junket operator Kim Wong accused Philrem of holding on to $17 million of the missing Bangladeshi funds. To this day, those funds have remained unaccounted for. Philrem was among those accused of money laundering but was cleared by prosecutors.
Wong was initially included in the money laundering complaint, but he was also cleared by the Department of Justice following his Senate testimony and his return of $4.6 million and P450 million in cash.
The money, Wong said, was brought in by a gaming client without informing him that the cash was obtained through illegal means.
Bangladesh Bank has been able to retrieve only about $15 million of the money stolen, mostly from Wong. Apart from the $81 million, $20 million went to Sri Lanka, which later returned the money to Bangladesh.
RCBC was fined a record P1 billion by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in August 2016 for failure to prevent the movement of the stolen money through its system, while a top Bangladeshi investigator said he suspected some IT technicians from the Dhaka-based bank helped the hackers carry out the heist.
On Jan. 10, 2019, the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) found Deguito guilty of eight counts of money laundering in connection with the heist and sentenced her to a jail term ranging from 32 to 56 years. She was also ordered to pay a total fine of about $109 million.
Deguito has asked Makati RTC Branch 149 to reverse its decision on Jan. 25.
In February 2019, Bangladesh Bank sued RCBC in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in relation to alleged money laundering.
On March 6, RCBC filed a defamation suit against Bangladesh Bank, arguing that its “reputation has come under the vicious and public attack by Bangladesh Bank since 2016.”
Source: Inquirer Archives
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