Bangladesh Seeks Information about Possible North Korea Link to Cyber Heist

Jesmin Papri
170324-BD-bank-620.jpg Investigators are trying to find those responsible for a record cyber-theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank, the country’s central bank.
Star Mail

Bangladesh central bank officials want proof from U.S. investigators regarding reports that North Korea had a role in a record cyber-theft of U.S. $81 million (6.5 billion taka) in February 2016, a deputy governor of the bank said Friday.

Bangladesh’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) must collect evidence from the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States to determine what role, if any, North Koreans played in the heist, Abu Hena Mohd. Razee Hassan, a deputy governor of Bangladesh Bank, told BenarNews.

“Possibly they (NSA) have some evidence about what the U.S. says. Our account is in the U.S. so they have some responsibility,” he said when asked to comment on American news reports about a potential North Korea link.

“The issue has been under investigation. Until the CID investigation is over, I would not make any comment. If we get any evidence [on North Korean involvement], then we will take action.”

The theft on Feb. 4, 2016, in which computer hackers tried to steal up to $1 billion (80 billion taka) of Bangladeshi central bank money held in its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, led to the resignation of Bangladesh Bank Gov. Atiur Rahman and the sacking of two of his deputies last year. The $81 million that was stolen was a record heist in Bangladesh, which is trying to recover most of this money more than a year later.

The central bank, which discovered the theft more than three weeks later and went public on March 8, 2016,  said thieves hacked its cyber system to place 35 payment orders with the New York Fed, using its exclusive SWIFT code.

Five orders involving U.S. $101 million (8 billion taka) were processed automatically with $81 million going to five accounts at an RCBC bank branch in the Philippines, while the remaining $20 million (1.6 billion taka) went to a bank account in Sri Lanka held by a local NGO. Alerted by the New York Fed, the Sri Lankan central bank returned the $20 million to the Bangladesh Bank account.

The Philippines has recovered a portion of the money – $15.25 million (1.2 billion taka) was turned over to the nation’s anti-money laundering agency by Kim Wong, a Filipino junket casino operator.

North Korea linked?

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators were building a case to implicate North Korea, and not specific individuals, for roles in the heist. Citing sources familiar with the investigation, it said prosecutors believed that Chinese middlemen helped North Korea orchestrate the theft from Bangladesh’s central bank.

The government of the communist state, led by Kim Jong Un, lately has been accused by officials in Malaysia, South Korea and the United States of being behind last month’s assassination of Kim’s half-brother at a Kuala Lumpur area airport. The alleged assassins used a banned nerve agent to kill him, according to local police.

When contacted by BenarNews on Friday, a U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman declined comment on the Journal’s report that North Korea may have been involved in the Bangladeshi heist.

Meanwhile, a Bangladesh investigator also declined to speak about a potential North Korea link.

“It would not be fair to make comment on the involvement of any individual from North Korea,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Shah Alam, who heads the CID probe team, told BenarNews.

“The CID has been maintaining close contact with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation in the investigation of the heist,” he said.

Without disclosing any details Alam said the CID was nearing the final stage of detecting the places where the stolen money ended up. He reiterated comments made last year.

“We have information that some insiders were involved in the heist. Insider means persons having access to the sensitive places,” he told BenarNews.

Analyst Mirza Azizul Islam, a former adviser to the Ministry of Finance, said international media have alleged that insiders at the central bank had a role in the theft.

“To avoid such speculation, the government should make public the probe report on the heist,” he said.

Prapti Rahman in Dhaka contributed to this story.


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