THE Bangladesh government is squarely putting the blame on Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) and PhilRem Service Corp. (PhilRem) for the $81-million heist on its central bank.
Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes said RCBC should be held accountable for failing to stop transactions transferring the $81 million from Bangladesh Central Bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to four accounts, despite memos from bank officials questioning its legitimacy.
Gomes’s response came the after the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) imposed a hefty P1-billion fine to RCBC in connection with the anomalous transactions—the biggest bank penalty to date.
“RCBC is to be held responsible because they did not abide by instructions to stop payment request. If they had abided by that, if they had put the red flag on, then the Philippines might not have been projected as it is being projected now in the financial world,” Gomes said.
In February unknown hackers tried to steal nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh Central Bank account, funnelling the money to banks in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Currently, only $18 million of the total $81 million has been accounted for.
Gomes also said PhilRem, which was responsible for converting the money to Philippine peso, still has $17 million of the unaccounted money as discussed during the Senate Blue-Ribbon Committee hearings.
“We have reasons to believe that PhilRem is actually retaining that amount. PhilRem needs to take the responsibility of that money and return that amount to Bangladesh. They have the responsibility to return the money or face the consequences,” Gomes said.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Supreme Court Senior Advocate Ajmalul Hossain said they are not looking to sue RCBC should the money be recovered, but they will go through every possible avenue if the situation demands for it.
“We know their weaknesses. They will have to face those challenges later on. We do not want to add challenge by suing them. If I get my money without suing anyone, is it not the best way of doing it,” Hossain said.
He added: “We leave it to the Filipino legal system. They have shown positive sign of doing things. There is no need for us to go barging to the court suing anyone.”
Gomes said the Bangladesh government is expecting to recover the $15 million submitted to the Anti-Money Laundering Council by gambling operator Kim Wong in two months time and the rest of the stolen money soon.
The Bangladeshi delegation has also met with Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. regarding the $2.30 million frozen in Solaire Resort and Casino. According to Gomes, they are working closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to have the money released from Solaire through a court order.
Gomes said they are happy with how the process of recovering the stolen money is going and will continue to work with various government institutions. He added that things are being resolved quickly with the DOJ already filing cases against individuals with connection to the heist.
President Duterte, meanwhile, has expressed his full commitment in helping in the resolution and recovery of the money lost in the Bangladesh cyber heist.
A high level Bangladesh government delegation is also expected to visit in mid-September, which, according to Gomes, will have a meeting with President Duterte.
Gomes is confident the relationship between Philippines and Bangladesh has not eroded. He also said there is a possibility to reopen the Senate Blue Ribbon hearing on the heist.
Currently, the Bangladesh government is investing on increased cyber-security measures with the hiring two New York-based information-technology companies to strengthen their systems.
Gomes characterized what happened in their country as an international wake-up call where there are now global efforts to prevent the same event from happening again.
Image credits: Danielle Gabriel