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The Philippines

Former Philippines banker jailed over US$81 million cyberheist of Bangladesh’s central bank

  • Hackers in 2016 transferred cash from Bangladesh’s US accounts to the RCBC bank in the Philippines, where millions of the loot went into Manila’s casinos
  • The manager of the bank branch where the money landed was handed eight counts of money-laundering and a US$109 million fine. Her lawyer says she is a scapegoat
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 9:54pm

A former banker in the Philippines was handed a lengthy jail term and US$109 million fine on Thursday in the first conviction over a cyberheist which saw US$81 million stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank.

Shadowy hackers transferred the cash in 2016 from Bangladesh’s US accounts to Philippine bank Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC), where it was swiftly withdrawn.

The theft exposed the Philippines as a haven for dirty money, where some of the world’s strictest bank secrecy laws protect account holders from scrutiny.

A bank the size of RCBC could not have allowed a lowly bank officer to have planned this, so there are others involved
Demetrio Custodio, lawyer

A Manila court found Maia Deguito, who was manager of the RCBC branch where the money landed, guilty on eight counts of money laundering - each carrying a minimum of four years behind bars. She was also ordered to pay US$109 million in fines.

Deguito plans to appeal and can remain free on bail until the conviction is finalised.

Authorities charged that Deguito helped coordinate the transfer of the money, which was taken from Bangladesh’s reserves account at the Federal Reserve bank in the United States.

Deguito is the only person who has been convicted in the case, said her lawyer Demetrio Custodio, who added his client had been turned into a scapegoat.

“She could not have done this on her own. A bank the size of RCBC could not have allowed a lowly bank officer to have planned this, so there are others involved in this,” said Custodio.

RCBC said in a statement it was a “victim” and that Deguito was a “rogue” employee.

The Philippine justice department said the case was not closed, but could not immediately provide details on other cases.

A North Korean hacker is also wanted by the US on charges that he and a state-sponsored hacking crew masterminded the Bangladesh heist.

Only US$15 million of the money was recovered after it landed in the Philippines and was quickly dispersed. Tens of millions of the loot disappeared into Manila’s casinos, which were at the time exempt from rules aimed at preventing money laundering.

The Philippine central bank imposed a record US$21 million fine on RCBC after the discovery of the heist as it investigated the lender’s alleged role in the theft.

The US reserve bank, which manages the Bangladesh Bank account, has denied its own systems were breached.