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Hackers steal $100M from Bangladesh bank

(Editor’s Note: This article came out on March 8 in The Daily Star, an English newspaper in Bangladesh and a member of the Asia News Network, a group of major daily newspapers in the region, including the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)

DHAKA—Bangladesh Bank (BB) has identified the people involved in the hacking of around $100 million (Tk 780 crore) from its foreign currency account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to BB officials.

Almost the entire amount was transferred online to the Philippines banking system and a small portion of it to Sri Lanka by suspected Chinese hackers on Feb. 5, said the central bank officials.

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The incident took place at a time when Bangladesh’s banking system is trying to recover from the recent ATM and credit card fraud.

A senior official of the BB (the central monetary authority in Bangladesh) told The Daily Star yesterday that a small portion of the stolen money had already been recovered from Sri Lanka. But the money, which is in the Philippines, has yet to be recovered.

“We are dealing with the issue. Those who were behind the hacking have been identified,” the official said.

Fed, Bank of England

The BB has around $28 billion in foreign currency reserves. Nearly one-third of the reserve is in the form of liquid assets with the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States and the Bank of England. The rest is invested in bonds and gold.

In a statement yesterday, the BB said it had been able to recover a portion of the stolen money. But it did not mention the amount.

“Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) is working with the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) of the Philippines to recover the money from there,” it said.

The AMLC filed a case in this regard in the Philippines and received a court order to freeze the accounts of those involved in laundering the stolen money.

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No due diligence

Wishing anonymity, a deputy governor of the BB, said the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had failed to do due diligence in dealing with the hacking threat.

However, the Federal Reserve Bank denied that its payments systems were breached, Reuters reported.

“To date, there is no evidence of any attempt to penetrate Federal Reserve systems in connection with the payments in question and there is no evidence that any Fed systems were compromised,” New York Fed spokesperson

Andrea Priest said in response to queries about the claim.

Talking to reporters on the matter yesterday, Finance Minister Ama Muhith said it was a “very unusual situation.”

“I cannot make any statement as I was not informed by the central bank about it. I just saw the news in the media,” Muhith said after a meeting with the newly appointed country director of the World Bank in Dhaka.

Stolen on Feb. 5

According to BB officials, hackers stole the money from a BB account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Feb. 5. Soon after the BB came to know about the hacking, it started working on the issue secretly.

But the issue came to the fore after Inquirer.net, a leading news website in the Philippines, revealed that the funds laundered were those of a financial institution in Bangladesh.

The financial regulator of the Philippines is now investigating what could be the biggest money laundering case ever detected in the country.

Casinos

Investigators in the Philippines found that computer hackers stole around $100 million, which was brought into the country’s banking system. It was sold to a black market foreign exchange broker, transferred to at least three large local casinos, sold back to the money broker and moved out to overseas accounts—all in a few days.

“We are confident of recovering the funds as these were channeled into the Philippines financial system,” said a senior BFIU official.

Visit to PH

“Two of our officials recently visited the Philippines to hold talks on the issue,” the official added.

According to BB officials, this laundered money could be recovered through the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR), a partnership between the World Bank Group and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which supports international efforts to end safe havens for corrupt funds.

StAR works with developing countries and financial centers to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of corruption and to facilitate more systematic and timely return of stolen assets. The Daily Star/Asia News Network

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TAGS: bangladesh, Business, cybercrime, Hackers, News
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