PH court convicts ex-bank manager over Bangladesh bank heist

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Maia Santos Deguito, former branch manager of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC) was found guilty on eight counts of money laundering. Reuters

MANILA (Reuters) –A Philippine court has found a former bank manager guilty on eight counts of money laundering, the first conviction in one of the world’s largest cyber heists, in which US$81 million was stolen from Bangladesh’s central bank nearly three years ago.

The Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) branch Judge Cesar Untalan sentenced Maia Santos Deguito, a former branch manager at Manila-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corp (RCBC), to a jail term ranging from 32 to 56 years, with each count carrying four to seven years.

She was also ordered to pay a total fine of about US$109 million.

In February 2016, unknown criminals used fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payments system to steal the funds from the Bangladesh’s central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The money was sent to accounts at a branch of RCBC in Manila then headed by Ms Deguito, before it disappeared into the casino industry in the Philippines.

“Her declaration in open court that she has nothing to do with these transactions was a complete and comprehensive lie,” the court said in its 26-page ruling.

Ms Deguito facilitated and coordinated and corroborated in the execution and implementation of the illegal bank transactions, the court added.

Ms Deguito remains free, however, as bail she posted earlier stays in effect until the conviction becomes final. She also intends to appeal Thursday’s ruling.

RCBC was fined a record 1 billion pesos (US$19.17 million) by the Philippine central bank in August 2016 for its failure to prevent the movement of the stolen money through the bank.

A former treasurer of RCBC and five other workers at the branch where the cash was withdrawn face money laundering charges.

“We hope that this case could be expedited and could go to trial soon for a decision,” Asad Alam Siam, Bangladesh’s ambassador to the Philippines, told Reuters, regarding the charges.

Just US$15 million of the stolen money has been recovered from a Manila junket operator, a role that involves marketing casinos to VIPs.

Bangladesh bank, finance and law ministry officials are visiting New York this week for talks to try and move forward the recovery process. They will have to make a decision on suing the parties involved.

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