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Bangladesh Bank to file lawsuit with US court by Feb 5 over $81m heist

  • Published at 11:10 pm January 10th, 2019
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The Bangladesh Bank building at Motijheel Mehedi Hasan/ Dhaka Tribune

A Philippine court handed down the first conviction relating to the heist on Thursday

Three years after the central bank heist of February 5, 2016—that saw $81 million siphoned off to accounts at the Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC)—Bangladesh Bank is finally ready to file a lawsuit with a US court.

The central bank will file a case, accusing the RCBC and Federal Reserve Bank of New York (New York Fed), by February 5.

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Bangladesh Bank spokesman and Executive Director Md Serajul Islam said: "A five-member team comprising senior officials from the Ministry of Finance and the central bank is now in the US to complete legal procedures related to filing the case."

The team, lead by Md Ashadul Islam, secretary of the Financial Institutions Division (FID) under the Finance Ministry, left for New York on Tuesday to hold discussions with a US-based law firm.

The team—which also includes Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) Chief Abu Hena Mohd Razee Hassan, adviser Deb Prasad Debnath, and Joint Director Abdur Rab—will also meet representatives of the New York Fed and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) to discuss further actions.  

As per US law, money-laundering cases have to be filed within three years of the crime being committed, meaning Bangladesh Bank must proceed with legal actions by February 5.

A central bank source revealed that once the team returns, a committee—comprised of the Bangladesh Bank governor, finance minister, law minister, and other senior government officials—will go to the US to file the lawsuit.  

The source added that the Finance Ministry had planned to file the lawsuit in December, but had to postpone it because of the 11th parliamentary election held on December 30, 2018.

Last month, the then Finance Minister AMA Muhith said the central bank will file the case by January 15 this year.

However, central bank Spokesman Serajul said that they will file the lawsuit by February 5.

Probe report yet to be submitted

A Dhaka court has set February 10 as the new deadline by which to submit the probe report on a case filed over the cyber heist.

Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Sadbir Yeasir Ahsan Chowdhury set the new date, on Wednesday, after the investigating officer failed to submit the report to the court.

Mohammad Raihun Islam, investigating officer of the case—and also assistant superintendant of the police (ASP) of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)—was scheduled to submit the report about the heist.

With the latest development, the deadline to submit the report to the court has been changed 28 times.

Ex-RCBC banker convicted  

Meanwhile, a Philippine court on Thursday found former RCBC branch manager Maia Deguito guilty on eight counts of money laundering—the first conviction of the heist, reports Reuters.

The regional court sentenced Deguito to a jail term ranging from 32 to 56 years, with each count carrying four to seven years.

She was also ordered to pay a fine of about $109 million.

The money had been 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, coordinated, and corroborated in the execution and implementation of the illegal bank transactions, the court added.

“The conviction of Deguito is consistent with the bank’s position that it is the victim in this situation and that Deguito is a rogue employee,” RCBC spokeswoman Thea Daep said in a statement.

Bangladesh Bank spokesman Serajul declined to comment on her imprisonment due to the high profile of the case.

Manila urged to expedite case

A former treasurer of RCBC, and five other employees of the RCBC branch from which the cash was withdrawn, also face money laundering charges.

Bangladesh, on Thursday, urged the Philippines to expedite the cases against the remaining six RCBC officials after Deguito's conviction.

"There's another case being handled by the DoJ [Department of Justice] against six other RCBC officials. We hope this case could be expedited and could go to trial soon for a decision," ABC CBN News quoted Bangladesh Ambassador to the Philippines Asad Alam Siam as saying.

The Bangladesh Embassy in Manila also shared the ABC CBN news link on its Facebook page.

The Philippine central bank fined RCBC a record 1 billion pesos ($19.17 million) in August 2016 for its failure to prevent the stolen money from being moved through the bank.

Of the $101 million stolen during the heist, $20 million was recovered from a Sri Lankan bank, while the remaining $81 million which landed in RCBC, is yet to be retrieved.