An inordinate delay in central bank money theft investigation

Published: 00:00, Nov 22,2019 | Updated: 00:15, Nov 22,2019


THE Dhaka metropolitan magistrates court has so far extended the deadline for the Criminal Investigation Department for the 38th time to submit its investigation report in the case lodged with the police over the theft of $101 million from the Bangladesh Bank account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The court on Wednesday extended the deadline until December 23 as the investigators had failed to submit the report in the case that a Bangladesh Bank deputy director filed with the Motijheel police, under the Money Laundering Prevention Act and the Information and Communications Technology Act, on March 15, 2016. Cyber thieves on February 4 that year transferred the amount making fraudulent orders on the SWIFT payment system. While the transfer of $20 million could be stopped in Sri Lanka and the amount sent back to Bangladesh, $81 million went out of the banking channel in the Philippines and in November 2016, Manila returned $15 million, which could be recovered from a junket operator there, to Bangladesh and the remaining of the amount is reported to have been laundered to the Philippine casino industry. The Bangladesh Bank on January 31, 2019 filed a case with the Federal Court of Southern District of New York for the recovery of about $66 million.

While the investigators have missed 38 deadlines for the submission of the report, which often construed as a wilful delay has given birth to various speculations among the public, the reports that the government committee — set up with a former Bangladesh Bank governor as its head to investigate the theft — has prepared have so far not been made public. The committee submitted the preliminary report on April 20, 2016 and the full report on May 30, 2017 to the finance ministry. Various excuses having been put forth for not publishing the report, the immediate past finance minister in August 2017 said that the findings would be made public after the recovery of the remaining amount. The current finance minister is reported to have told the parliament this February that the report would not be made public as its findings could influence the investigation that the Criminal Investigation Department was then carrying out. While the Criminal Investigation Department has not yet been able to submit the report to the court which it should have done much earlier in view of the gravity of the theft, this could be no excuse for the government not to make public the report that the government committee has prepared. What remains worrying in all this is that the allegation of the culpability of central bank employees in the theft — which kept coming off and on in the initial days of investigation with SWIFT authorities seeking to say that the Bangladesh Bank was responsible for the security of its own systems interfacing with the SWIFT network — has still been left unresolved.

The delay in the submission of the report by the Criminal Investigation Department and the government investigation having so far not been made public only leaves scope for people to infer that the authorities are out to save certain people from being ensnared in the case. While the government must make its reports public, it must also ensure that the Criminal Investigation Department should submit the report early.

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