By Syed Zain Al-Mahmood
DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Philippine authorities returned $15 million of $81 million stolen from Bangladesh's account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in a February cyberheist, the first time the South Asian country has been able to retrieve any of the stolen money.
Abu Hena Mohammad Razee Hassan, deputy governor of Bangladesh's central bank, said the cash was delivered to the Bangladeshi embassy in Manila by officials of the Philippine central bank and the country's Anti-Money Laundering Council.
"Our ambassador received the money and the amount will soon be transferred to our account at the New York Federal Reserve,"he said.
The $15 million in cash had been kept in a vault at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philippine central bank, since May, when casino operator Kim Wong, whom investigators have described as a suspect in the case, turned over the cash to Manila authorities.
In September, Bangladesh obtained a judicial order from a court in Manila directing the Philippine authorities to give the money back to the Bank of Bangladesh.
Mr. Wong, a Chinese national who owns a casino in the Philippines and operates a junket business bringing wealthy Chinese gamblers to Manila, told a Philippine senate committee he was returning the "dirty money" because his "conscience is clear."
The balance of the $81 million wired to the Philippines during the heist has disappeared into Manila's murky casino industry and investigators say there is little chance of tracing it.
In early February, cyberthieves used access codes of Bangladesh Bank for the global money-transfer network Swift to transfer $81 million to four bank accounts in the Philippines while $20 million went to the account of a nonprofit in Sri Lanka. The transfer to Sri Lanka was halted after a bank executive in Colombo noticed that the name of the beneficiary had been misspelled. That money was later returned to Bangladesh's foreign currency reserve at the New York Fed.
Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co., Mr. Wong's casino, received $20 million of the stolen money, which he said was payment for a loan given to a Chinese gambler. Mr. Wong agreed to return the bulk of the money after a probe by a Philippine senate committee revealed his role in the movement of the stolen funds through the Philippines gambling industry.
Nearly $60 million was paid to two other casinos and a gambling junket operator in Manila, but the Anti-Money Laundering Council of the Philippines says it is unable to trace it further.
The heist, one of the biggest bank robberies in modern times, sent shock waves through the global money transfer system. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a member-owned cooperative that connects more than 11,000 financial institutions and accounts for the bulk of world-wide cross-border payments traffic, said its core network hadn't been breached. Swift disclosed that several of its client banks had been targeted in similar cyberattacks. The Brussels-based cooperative urged customers to improve network security and rolled out enhanced security patches for its servers.
Silicon Valley-based cybersecurity firm FireEye, which was hired by Bangladesh Bank to probe the theft, said the bank's Swift server had been compromised in "a sophisticated and coordinated cyberattack."
Law enforcement agencies in several countries have been probing the theft, including the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. No one has been arrested for the crime.
Write to Syed Zain Al-Mahmood at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 12, 2016 09:33 ET (14:33 GMT)
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