A former branch manager of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. was sentenced to at least 32 years in jail and fined $109 million Thursday in the first conviction over one of the biggest cyber-heists that saw $81-million stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank.
Shadowy hackers transferred the cash in 2016 from Bangladesh’s US accounts to RCBC, where it was swiftly withdrawn.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 Manila court found Maia Deguito, who was an RCBC branch manager where the money landed, guilty on eight counts of money laundering which carry a minimum of four years each behind bars.
The court also ordered her to pay $109 million in fines. Deguito plans to appeal and can remain free on bail until the conviction is final.
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–which has drawn international concern –her lawyer Demetrio Custodio said, adding that 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,” Custodio said.
RCBC said in a statement that it was a “victim” and that Deguito was a “rogue” employee.
The Department of Justice said the case was not closed, but could not immediately provide details on other cases.
A North Korean hacker is also wanted by the United States on charges he and a state-sponsored hacking crew masterminded the Bangladesh heist.
Only $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 Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas imposed a record P1 billion 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.
RCBC, the 10th largest lender in terms of assets, said the conviction of Deguito, who was manager of its Jupiter, Makati branch, showed she was a “rogue employee.”
“The conviction of Deguito is consistent with the bank’s position that it is the victim in this situation and that Ms. Deguito is a rogue employee,” a statement released by the bank said.
But Deguito’s lawyer Demetrio Custodio said in an interview over CNN Philippines that they would file a motion for consideration to appeal the decision.
“We have 15 days but we will file as soon as we can prepare a motion for reconsideration,” Custodio said.
Senate investigations found that cyber thieves stole the amount from the account of Bank of Bangladesh in the Federal Reserve in New York and entered the Philippine banking system through the Jupiter branch of RCBC.
The money were then deposited in accounts of fictitious individuals and later on laundered in local casinos.
The Department of Justice had cleared casino operator Kim Wong, junket operator Weikang Xu and the remittance firm Philrem.
For its involvement in the scam, RCBC was ordered to pay a fine of an unprecedented P1 billion, which the bank paid in tranches.
Early this week, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III maintained that the government would not interfere in any proposal of an out-of-court settlement between Bank of Bangladesh and RCBC to recover what was left of the stolen amount from its account in New York.
In a statement to reporters, Dominguez reiterated the government’s hands-off policy on this issue which was announced May last year. “Our position is unchanged,” Dominguez said.
He issued this statement after a report came out last week saying that Bank of Bangladesh was ready to file a case against RCBC in an international court by Jan. 15.
The report also said that Bank of Bangladesh already received consent from the prime minister to file lawsuits against RCBC by the deadline of Jan. 15. With AFP