Courier Asks: Where is the BB heist probe report?


Wednesday, August 9th, 2017
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Finance Minister AMA Muhith this week said the official investigation’s report into the Bangladesh Bank heist is not being made public as a case is pending with a court in the Philippines.

 

We humbly beg to differ with the finance minister on this as an example of dithering on the part of the authorities. In doing so, we need only go by his own previous statements on the subject, which repeatedly failed to mention such a probe (though it was public knowledge) as an obstacle to the report being made public.

 

International cyber hackers are believed to have stolen $81 million (they were gunning for close to $1 billion) from Bangladesh Bank’s treasury account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, one of the 12 constituent Federal Reserve Banks of the United States, on February 5, 2016.

 

Following the incident coming to light thanks to the Philippine media, where the money was diverted into the lightly regulated casino industry, the government formed a 3-member investigation committee, headed by the central bank’s former governor Dr Farashuddin, on March 19, 2016.

 

The probe body submitted its preliminary report to the finance minister in April followed by the final report on May 30 of the same year. Neither has ever been made public.

 

At that time, Mr Muhith had said the report would be published in about 20 days. Since then he has on different occasions, including in parliament on July 21, 2016 said the investigation report on the heist will be made public within the “next few days”.

 

In August (this is still 2016), the parliamentary standing committee on the finance ministry expressed dissatisfaction over the finance ministry and Muhith for not making the report public. Following that, on August 21, the finance minister said the report would be made public the following month.

 

“I will go abroad on September 24. The report will be released before that,” Mr Muhith was quoted as telling reporters at his secretariat by The Daily Star. The finance minister did go abroad on the date as stated. But the report wasn’t forthcoming. After this, the media caught on, and mostly stopped asking.

 

Meanwhile, in September 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) of the Philippines wrapped up its preliminary investigation on money laundering charges connected to the high-profile cyber heist, reported the Daily Inquirer. The Filipino newspaper reported that Assistant State Prosecutor Gilmarie Fe Pacamara concluded the probe on three consolidated complaints after four months of hearings. All through the period Mr Muhith was promising to make the report public.

 

The complaints filed by the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) were against former Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) branch manager Maia Santos-Deguito and four others, casino junket operators Kam Sin Wong alias Kim Wong and Weikang Xu and executives of the remittance firm Philrem Service Corp.

 

In November 2016, Lawyer Thea Daep, external legal counsel of RCBC, challenged Bangladesh Bank to produce the results of its own investigation, even the initial ones, to help shed light on who the perpetrators were. She said the results of the investigation of Bangladesh Bank “would be critical in helping the global banking sector protect itself”.

 

In April 2017, Philippines Department of Justice filed money laundering charges against officials of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and remittance firm Philrem Service Corp. These are straight up criminal charges against individuals and there should be no legal sensitivity in relation to them from Bangladesh Bank’s probe report being made public.

 

In light of all this, we find the continued witholding of the report’s publication to be wrongheaded, at best misguided.

 

To answer the question, it is where it shouldn’t be. Sitting in the backburner.

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