Bangladesh Ambassador Asks Philippines to Return Recovered Central Bank Money

BenarNews Staff
2016.05.19
Washington, D.C.
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160519-BD-return-money-620.jpg Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes speaks to reporters at the Central Bank of the Philippines, in Manila, March 31, 2016.
AFP

Bangladesh’s ambassador to the Philippines on Thursday asked a Filipino senate panel to return millions of dollars recovered locally from the theft of $81 million from his country’s central bank.

Appearing before a Senate Committee hearing in Manila, Ambassador John Gomes also revealed that cyber thieves had hacked into a computer belonging to an official of Bangladesh’s central bank to pull off the heist in early February.

“The whole world knows the money belongs to Bangladesh,” the ambassador told the committee, adding that “$81 million came over here, not a single dollar went anywhere else.”

The lawmakers responded that the process of returning the money to Bangladesh could take months, according to a video of the hearing posted on YouTube.

Bangladesh is seeking $15 million of stolen Bangladesh Bank money surrendered by casino junket operator Kim Wong to the Philippine Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Wong had surrendered a total of $10 million on three separate occasions in March and April. He recently returned nearly $5 million more, according to reports.

Gomes told the panel that he was with AMLC officials when officials counted the first batch of money returned by Wong. Gomes said the money was taken to a vault and he was shown where the bills were stored. Wong signed a promissory note to return $15 million.

“We signed for that money,” Gomes said.

AMLC Director Julia Bacay Abad told the committee on Thursday that her organization was working with the Bangladeshi government to recover and return the funds.

“We can’t just take the law into our own hands,” she said, adding that her organization would take appropriate actions to expedite the return.

Voicing concern that it could take another three to five months before Bangladesh sees any of this money, Gomes pointed out that Wong made his first payment in March.

The Bangladeshi government also believes that the Philippine Remittance Co. has $17 million, and has been asking the Filipino firm to hand over the cash, the ambassador said. During previous hearings, company officials denied receiving the money, according to reports.

Another $28 million is held by a Filipino casino – meaning that about $20 million remains unaccounted for – CNN Philippines quoted Philippine officials as saying.

Investigators identify computer

The record theft on Feb. 4 – in which hackers tried to steal up to $1 billion 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 firing of two of his deputies.

In an earlier Facebook page posting, the central bank stated that thieves had hacked into its cyber system and placed 35 payment orders with the New York Federal Reserve Bank, using the bank’s Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) code. Five of the orders were cleared but a spelling error led to the others being frozen.

Addressing the Philippine senators, Gomes said that an unnamed Bangladeshi central bank official’s computer had been hacked, but he assured them that the hackers were not from the Philippines or Bangladesh.

But Gomes discounted recent reports that the hackers were from North Korea or Pakistan.

“We don’t know if the reports are authentic,” he said, adding he expected that information to be in a final report by investigators.

Reuters quoted the envoy as telling the senators that the hackers, in pulling off the heist, had used the official’s computer to make payments via the SWIFT electronic inter-bank monetary transfer system.

There was no evidence linking anyone in his country directly to the theft, Gomes said, according to the news agency.

In Dhaka, attempts by BenarNews to reach central bank officials for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.

The hackers picked a good time to commit the crime, according to Gomes.

“It was a Friday. The bank was totally shut down for the Muslim day of prayer. No one actually goes to the bank,” he told the senators in Manila.

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