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Staff Correspondent
A Philippine court on Thursday handed a former bank manager a lengthy jail term and fine in the first conviction over Bangladesh Bank reserve heist.
It was one of the world’s largest cyber heists, in which $81 million was stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank nearly three years ago. It has come as a positive sign for Bangladesh to bring back the stolen money. The government should work to speed up the process for the legal battle, economists said.
When contacted, BB spokesperson Serajul Islam told Bangladesh Post, “We are ready to take action as we have already taken all necessary steps to file a case before February.”
Seeking anonymity, a BB official said a special court has been set up to determine the cost of management and filing of FIRs to prepare the case.
The convict was identified as Maia Deguito, a former branch manager at Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC).
The ex-banker was awarded jail term ranging from 32 to 56 years, according to international news agencies.
She was also ordered to pay a total fine of about $109 million. In February 2016, unknown criminals used fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payments system to steal the funds from the Bangladesh’s central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
The money was sent to accounts at a branch of RCBC in Manila then headed by Deguito, before it disappeared into the casino industry in the Philippines.
“Her declaration in open court that she has nothing to do with these transactions was a complete and comprehensive lie,” the court said in its 26-page ruling.
Deguito facilitated and coordinated and corroborated in the execution and implementation of the illegal bank transactions, the court added.
Earlier on September 6, the US government charged and sanctioned a North Korean man for hacking into Bangladesh Bank’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in February 2016—after the Federal Bureau of Investigation found evidence of his involvement.
The cybercriminals stole $101 million from Bangladesh Bank’s reserves deposited with the US Federal Reserve Bank in February 2016.
They channelled the money into bank accounts at the RCBC in Manila by placing fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payments system.
Nearly $20 million of the sum was recovered from Sri Lanka.
The lion’s share of the booty landed in the Philippines and that is reported to have been squandered through gaming in casinos, among other matters of misdealing.
Later, some $15 million more could be recovered from the Philippines.
However, there is no headway towards recovering the remaining over $66 million from the Philippines.
Initially, the government authorities in the Philippines extended cooperation to recover the money.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’, the central bank of the Philippines, in August 2016 fined the RCBC $21 million for its involvement in the reserves heist.
The branch manager of RCBC, Maia Deguito, was arrested in August 2016 for her involvement in the theft and was released later.
She has faced money laundering charges and has also been sued by RCBC President Lorenzo Tan, for libel.
But in recent months, officials said, cooperation from the authorities in the Philippines was not satisfactory.
They are repeatedly asking Bangladesh to forward the official probe report carried out by a committee headed by former BB governor Dr Mohammed Farashuddin after the incident.
Even the RCBC authority threatened to file case against Bangladesh Bank officials for allegedly maligning its image, making it a “scapegoat”, and claiming the bank had a hand in the theft.
Against this backdrop, officials of the finance ministry and the BB were finding the options of an out of court settlement of the issue.
Now they believe that recovering the remaining $66 million from RCBC would not be possible without a legal battle.