14 February 2018, Wed, 6:43

Bank heist mystery remains unsolved, money unrecovered

It is a matter of concern that even two years on since the Bangladesh Bank heist, most of the money remains unrecovered and the persons involved in the scam remain unidentified. A total of USD 101 million was stolen on 4 February 2016 from Bangladesh Bank’s reserves with the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Within a few months of the heist, USD 14.5 million was recovered from Sri Lanka and USD 14.5 million from the Philippines. Recovery of the remaining USD 66.4 million remains uncertain. 

The Philippines bank RCBC has said that they have no plans of returning any money to Bangladesh. They deny any complicity with the reserve pilferage, saying that Bangladesh must take responsibility for the negligence and carelessness of Bangladesh Bank. The stolen funds have been smuggled out of the Philippines elsewhere.

They, however, cannot deny that the stolen money had been deposited with RCBC. Why did they take no measures to block the flight of these funds even after being informed of the matter by both Bangladesh’s central bank and the New York Fed. This is an apparent breach of international law.

Bangladesh’s central bank had even said that if the Philippines did not take effective measures to return the money, they would file a case. Two years have passed since the incident. Economists and bankers say that there is no alternative to filing a case in order to get the money back. The New York Fed has also assured that it will extend its cooperation in this regard. Bangladesh should file charges against RCBC immediately.

From the very outset, Bangladesh Bank has been prevaricating about the bank heist. Even though USD 101 million of Bangladesh Bank reserves was stolen in February 2016, it was only revealed in March. The incident created a stir. The government gave assurance that the guilty persons would be nabbed and the money recovered. The governor of the central bank, Atiur Rahman, resigned on ethical grounds. An inquiry committee headed by former central bank governor Farashuddin was formed and submitted their report in due time. The government has kept the report under covers till now.

It was an international criminal ring that carried out the heist. However, it is imperative to look into whether anyone from Bangladesh was also involved and also the negligence and carelessness of Bangladesh Bank, as pointed out by the Philippines.

A year after the incident, finance minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith said that the government is looking for ways and means to get the money bank. Another year has passed since then but there is no development to this end. How much longer will it take for the mystery to be unravelled and the money to be recovered?

The people have the right to know who in Bangladesh Bank were responsible for the negligence and carelessness that led to this heist. So long talks with the Philippines had been used as an excuse not to reveal the inquiry report, but now that they have taken a final stand, there is no reason to hold the report back.

The government needs to take pragmatic action. The New York Fed and other international agencies must also be approached for their cooperation and assistance.