Philippine bank linked to Bangladesh heist gets large fine

MANILA, Philippines (AP) " The Philippine central bank on Friday imposed a 1 billion peso ($21 million) fine, its largest ever, on a local commercial bank which became embroiled in the laundering of $81 million stolen by hackers from a U.S. Federal Reserve account belonging to Bangladesh's central bank.

The Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. said it would pay the fine in two installments. The Philippine central bank said the action affirms its "strong commitment to ensure the stability of the country's financial system" through strong regulation of local banks.

The central bank and RCBC did not disclose details of the investigation that led to the fine.

Despite the fine, the central bank cited RCBC's "efforts in instituting changes to strengthen its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing risk management system and governance culture."

The stolen funds are thought to have been funneled online to four private accounts at an RCBC branch, converted into pesos and wired out through a remittance company to two casinos, which are not covered by anti-money laundering regulations, according to Filipino anti-money laundering officials.

Only a fraction of the $81 million has been recovered so far.

Bangladesh's ambassador to Manila, John Gomes, welcomed the fine as a "positive thing" and said it indicated the Philippine central bank was acting responsibly.

"Definitely we are happy but we will leave it to the Philippine courts, the judicial system to handle RCBC for now," Gomes said in a news conference in Manila.

He said Bangladesh is continuing its efforts to recover its money in the Philippines, and that its finance minister and other officials will travel to Manila next month to press that effort.

"Our quest remains the $81 million and we hold RCBC responsible," Gomes said.

The cyberheist has highlighted a potential pitfall in global anti-money laundering efforts, which in the case of the Philippines have focused more in the past on blocking terrorist financing than on preventing misuse of the financial system by banks and casinos.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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