November 29, 2016 / 10:00 AM / in 8 months

Philippine bank at centre of $81 mln heist says will not compensate Bangladesh

3 Min Read

MANILA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Philippine lender RCBC is not liable to compensate Bangladesh for tens of millions of stolen dollars that went missing in Manila, RCBC's lawyer said on Tuesday, pinning the blame on the central bank in Dhaka for being "negligent".

Unknown cyber criminals tried to steal nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh Bank in February, one of the biggest bank frauds ever.

They succeeded in transferring some $81 million via an account at the New York Federal Reserve to four accounts in fake names at a branch of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) in Manila. Most of the money was laundered through casinos in Manila and remains missing.

RCBC external counsel Thea Daep urged Bangladesh Bank to be transparent and produce the results of its own investigation to shed light on who was behind the heist, saying it was the least Bangladesh's central bank could do.

"RCBC is not the proximate cause of the theft. They have no case against us. BB (Bangladesh Bank) was the one who was negligent," Daep said in a statement, adding the local lender will not pay Bangladesh Bank anything.

Bangladesh Ambassador John Gomes was quoted in a newspaper as saying his government would seek compensation from RCBC. Gomes did not respond to request for comments.

Daep said RCBC received the funds after they went through three layers of highly protected financial institutions.

"Numerous reports quoting high Bangladeshi officials and the initial findings of BB's own investigation indicated that the heist got help from BB insiders. Shortly after, BB decided to abort its investigation which raises a lot of questions, to say the least," Daep said.

Subhankar Saha, spokesman for Bangladesh Bank, told Reuters in Dhaka "halt payment" instructions were sent to RCBC both by Bangladesh Bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York but that RCBC did not comply.

"The payment in cash was also abnormal," he said. "...The mechanism of transfer of money was also not transparent. So all these are questionable."

Only about $15 million has been recovered and returned to Bangladesh, with a further $2.7 million frozen.

A Bangladesh delegation is in Manila to meet with Philippine authorities and speed up the recovery of the rest of money.

RCBC has been fined a record one billion Philippine pesos ($20 million) by the Philippine central bank, about one fifth of its net profit last year, for its failures to prevent the Bangladesh Bank money from being transferred through accounts at the bank.

An anti-money laundering body last week filed charges against five officials of RCBC in connection with the heist. ($1 = 50 pesos)

Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka; Editing by Nick Macfie

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