Bangladesh to RCBC: Pay for missing $66 million

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Bangladesh wants the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) to shoulder the missing chunk of the $81 million (around ₱4 billion) stolen from its central bank in a cyber heist in February.

A high-level delegation of Bangaldeshi officials is in the country this week to seek help from the Philippine government in filing criminal and civil charges against the Yuchengco-owned bank.

"It is clearly established that RCBC was very much involved in the scam, and they have admitted their liability," Bangladeshi Minister of Law Anisul Huq said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

"There remains $66 million (approximately ₱3.3 billion) and we have come here to recover that."

An inquiry by the Senate and an investigation by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) both found RCBC had committed serious lapses, Huq said, allowing hackers to hide away their loot in fictitious bank accounts in the bank's Jupiter branch in Makati City.

RCBC also allowed the money to be withdrawn, even though it had already received stop orders from the Bangladesh Bank.

Read: PH money laundering probe: What we know so far

Huq said RCBC had effectively admitted to these lapses by agreeing to pay the BSP's record ₱1-billion penalty.

More tellingly, he said, then-RCBC President Lorenzo Tan said in a Senate hearing that the bank could pay back the money if it was found guilty of money laundering.

"If we are found liable, yes, I will recommend to the board that we set aside a certain sum of money to give back," Tan said in April.

Read: RCBC open to returning Bangladesh money

Huq said, "On that premise, RCBC should pay the money back to Bangladesh."

The $81-million scandal — the largest money laundering case in the country's history — has stretched on for months, but the money trail has long gone cold.

After the money was withdrawn from RCBC, it was converted to pesos through remittance firm PhilRem Service Corp. and then gambled away at several casinos.

Only $15 million (around ₱746 million) has been found and returned to Bangladesh so far. Casino junket operator Kim Wong returned $4.63 million (around ₱230 million) and ₱488 million, claiming he didn't know it was dirty money.

About $2.7 million (around ₱134 million) is frozen in Solaire Resorts and Casino by a court order, while another $17 million (around ₱845 million) was allegedly kept by PhilRem operators Salud and Michael Bautista.

Huq said, however, that those details were irrelevant. Bangladesh is setting its sights on RCBC and RCBC alone.

"I expect RCBC to take the entire liability. The money came in through RCBC. We do not need to know what happened to the money later on," he claimed.

In a statement on Tuesday, the lender categorically denied it was liable to make any payments.

"RCBC is not the proximate cause of the theft. They have no case against us," RCBC external counsel Thea Daep said.

Daep even turned the tables on the Bangladesh Bank, saying initial findings showed central bank insiders had a hand in the hacking.

She challenged Bangladesh Bank to bare the results of its own probe and "show... who really stole from them."

Huq shook off these claims and said RCBC was in no position to make demands on the Bangladeshi government. He declined to comment on the Bangladesh Bank's ongoing investigation into the cyber heist.

Meanwhile, Bangaldesh Ambassador John Gomes said the Philippine government has been supportive of recovery efforts.

The delegation met with the Finance and Justice Departments, as well as the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. It is scheduled to meet with the BSP on Thursday.

Huq said that any legal actions taken against RCBC would be coursed through the Philippine government.

"Both civil and criminal proceedings are being initiated... Government officials assured us due process would be followed," he said.