The Philippines must immediately return millions of dollars recovered from a high-profile hacking theft, Bangladesh’s ambassador said Thursday in Manila, but Filipino officials warned resolving the embarrassing case could take months.
On February 5, unidentified hackers shifted $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank’s account with the US Federal Reserve to a nondescript bank in Manila, from where it was funneled into local casinos.
Philippine officials have tracked down all but $21 million of the loot, but have only recovered a fraction of it.
Chinese casino promoter Kim Wong has returned part of the loot but Bangladeshi ambassador to Manila, John Gomes, expressed outrage that the surrendered funds — now totaling $15 million — had not been returned to Dhaka.
“It is Bangladesh’s money, so it is our request that this should be followed through,” Gomes said when he testified at a Senate public hearing on the case.
Philippine law exempts casino transactions from scrutiny by the country’s anti-money laundering council without a case filed in court.
Wong, the casino junket operator, had earlier told the Senate that two high-rollers from Beijing and Macau shifted the $81 million to dollar accounts at Manila’s Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council has filed a suit to gain control of the alleged stolen funds from Wong, the Manila bank and the casinos.
But the council’s executive director Julia Abad testified Thursday that the whole process could take at least three to five months for uncontested cases, and potentially years if the ownership were disputed.
“We are doing everything to provide the necessary assistance to the Bangladeshi government to recover the money… We cannot just take the law into our hands,” Abad said.
Gomes said there were no other claimants apart from his government, and he could not understand why the process was taking so long.
He acknowledged the Philippine government’s efforts in investigating the controversy but said that his government will also go after the people involved in the heist.
“We are just waiting what happens here in the Philippines and how much money will be recovered. The US is also involved in this because the money actually came out from the Federal Reserve. Definitely, we will file charges against anyone. We don’t know if it’s RCBC or anyone else, but definitely Bangladesh will go international on this,” the envoy said.