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‘No proper steps after BB heist’

Published : 18 Sep 2019 09:28 PM | Updated : 05 Sep 2020 07:09 PM

Immediately after the Bangladesh Bank (BB) reserve heist that took place in 2016, the authorities concerned did not take any adequate and proper steps in this direction. Instead of taking instant effective measures and legal steps, Dr. Atiur Rahman, the former Governor of Bangladesh Bank tried his level best to suppress and manipulate the incident in many ways. And he (Dr. Atiur Rahman,) had concealed the incident in order not to inform the government till 24 days of the heist, saying if the incident is disclosed, concerned officials of BB would be harassed.

Besides, a number of issues which questioned the activities of the BB authorities have been mentioned in the report prepared by the former central bank governor, Mohammed Farashuddin-led probe committee. The Bangladesh Bank itself had prepared the ground to steal foreign reserve from its account as its security measures remained unprotected and concerned officials were irresponsible, the report observed.
Taking the chance, the hackers detected the secret signal and password and finally within six months they stole $ eight crore, 10 lakhs, one thousand and six hundred twenty three (BDT 810 crore) from BB's account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York by using fake orders on the SWIFT payment system on February 4 in 2016.

However, the BB authority came to know of the reserve heist one day after the incident. And after 33 days of the incident, the BB authority formally informed the incident to former finance minister AMA Muhith. When the incident came to light, a three-member probe committee led by former central bank governor Mohammed Farashuddin was formed on March 15 the same year. The BB lodged a case with Motijheel police station on the same day in this connection.

Later, the case was handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department on the next day asking it to carry out intensive investigation into the incident and the CID’s probe is also going on. The Farashuddin-led committee started investigation into the case from March 20. And the committee quickly submitted the report to the former finance minister AMA Muhith to this end on May 30. According to the Farashuddin-led committee, there was no logic to keep a big incident like the BB heist secret from authorities concerned.

The committee report termed it a heinous crime as the incident was not informed to the prime minister’s office and the finance ministry as well , mentioning it was a also an act of misconduct. As per the Farashuddin-led committee directives that was why the prime minister’s office and the finance ministry were not informed of the incident, and the then deputy governor Abul Kashem in his written statement said, although the hackers stole the money from the BB on the night of February 4, they came to know on February 6. “Later, we informed the incident to the BB governor Atiur Rahman. And I advised him to lodge a General Diary (GD) with police station. Simultaneously, I requested him (Atiur Rahman) to send copies of the GD to the prime minister’s office and the finance ministry,” Abul Kashem mentioned in its written statement.

“But he (Atiur Rahman) told me not file any GD with police station. If the GD is filed, the officials of BB would be harassed in many ways. And panic would also grip them. And if the fiancé minister knew of the incident, he might give statement over the issue according to whatever he liked. And even Atiur also asked the BB high ups to conceal the internal report,” he said in the statement.

In this regard, Atiur Rahman gave explanation to the Farashuddin-led committee saying “I talked to Armando M Tetangco, Jr, governor of the Philippines Central Bank over telephone. He (Armando M Tetangco) told me that if the incident is disclosed the criminals would manage a good escape. If the incident remains undisclosed, we will get back the money.” Farashuddin-led committee in its comments said in the probe report that based on a foreign person’s advice and uncertain assurance, Atiur even did not think it neessary to inform the authorities concerned to take legal action, and even the board of management of the Bangladesh Bank.

When a news story on BB reserve heist was published in the Daily Inquirer, a Philippines-based national daily on February 29, Atiur Rahman on March 1 informed the intelligence agency. Later, he (Atitur) informed the prime minister over short message service (SMS) and on March 7 he met with the former finance minister AMA Muhith. On several occasions, the then finance minister Muhith told journalists that the probe report would be made public. But the report has not been made public as yet.

And even the CID has also not submitted its investigation report as yet. As a result, who were responsible for BB heist, cannot still be known.
The Farashuddin-led committee repeatedly requested Atiur Rahman to meet with it any day. But the ex-BB governor did not pay any heed to the committee. Instead of meeting with the Farashuddin-led committee, Dr Atiur said that if he met with the committee, the media would have a chance to ask him indiscriminate questions.

“So that’s why I don’t want to meet with the committee,” Atiur said. Though three years have already elapsed, no official of the central bank has been awarded punishment. On the other hand, many of them have been given promotions. On May 30 that year, Mohammed Farashuddin-led committee handed its full report to former finance minister AMA Muhith. Hackers stole $101 million from BB's account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York by using fake orders on the SWIFT payment system in February 2016. Later, $81 million was sent to accounts in Manila-based Rizal Commercial Bank Corporation (RCBC), from where it disappeared into the casino industry in the Philippines.
So far, Bangladesh has been able to retrieve $15 million from the Philippines. Bangladesh has also recovered $20 million sent to a bank in Sri Lanka.

Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Wednesday said the government cannot say anything over the issue. “As the investigation process of CID is still continuing in connection with BB heist, it would not be wise to say anything on the issue,” after a meeting with the chairmen and managing director of state-run banks, the finance minister told reporters

The investigation into the reserve heist from the Bangladesh Bank is going on and progress on the matter from time to time is being informed to the government. After the incident, he said, as per the request of the government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States and the Philippines government had started investigation and recovered US$ 20 million from Sri Lanka instantly. Besides, an amount of US$ 14.63 million has also been brought back from the Philippines and the probe is going on to recover the rest US$ 66.37 million, he said.
Meanwhile, the government asked the US based agency to file a case on the issue on June, 2018 and as per the request, the US based agency filed a case before the US court on behalf of Bangladesh on January, 2019. “We have filed the case within the stipulated time,” he added.
Farashuddin, head of the body that probed the $101 million cyber heist, told reporters that they found SWIFT, among others, “responsible” for the heist.

After the incident, he said, the government immediately had taken various steps including recovery of the money, identification of the perpetrators or organizations and to check such incidents in future. Terming the reserve scam as an international offense and that more foreign agencies are being involved in the scam, the Finance Minister said, the US intelligence agency FBI has already filed cases against the hackers in their respective countries and the Anti-Money Laundering Council in the Philippines also filed cases against the persons involved in money laundering.

A US law firm on behalf of Bangladesh filed a case with a US court in January this year, and the process of recovering the rest of the heist money is still going on, said Mustafa, adding that he would inform the House if any progress was made in this regard. The minister said, immediately after the reserve heist, the government took all possible measures to recover the money, identify the people and organisations involved in the cyber heist and prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

Mustafa added that an investigation committee, headed by Farashuddin, was formed as part of the measures. Besides, the CID was assigned to probe the incident further. Mentioning that the cyber heist is an international crime, Kamal said several overseas organisations were involved in it.

Under this consideration, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Philippines government started investigating the incident following Bangladesh government's request, he added. He mentioned that the FBI had already filed a case with a US court against the hackers and a case was filed in the Philippines against those involved in money laundering activities.

Getting sufficient evidence from the FBI and the Philippines, Bangladesh appointed a US law firm in June last year to file a case with a US court in connection with the cyber heist, the minister added.