New York, NY (BBN)– The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is probing the theft, apparently by hackers, of tens of millions of dollars from Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to people familiar with the matter.
Last month, computer criminals attempted to steal nearly $1.0 billion from Bangladesh’s account at the New York Fed, according to Bangladeshi officials, who are already investigating the theft, reports the Wall Street Journal.
The size of the transactions triggered concern, which led to the Fed blocking some of the withdrawal, but the thieves were able to move about $81 million to accounts in the Philippines and $20 million to a bank in Sri Lanka, according to Bangladeshi officials. The theft led to the resignation of Bangladesh’s top central banker and several other senior officials.
FBI agents are trying to determine who was behind the theft, looking for evidence in the U.S. and beyond, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Officials in the Philippines say it appears at least some of the stolen money was converted into gambling chips. Criminals sometimes use gambling chips to launder criminal proceeds.
Bangladesh central bank officials close to the investigation said the criminals had used malicious code, known as malware, to penetrate its computers.
The scheme appears to have worked in part because the thieves struck during the weekend in Bangladesh, when banking officials were less likely to notice unusual behavior and less likely to connect with their international counterparts about the questionable transfers.
The Friday when the crime occurred was a weekend in Bangladesh, and the central bank’s offices were closed, but it was a workday in New York.
When the New York Fed received a series of suspicious payment orders on that Friday, Feb. 5, ostensibly from the Bangladesh Bank, officials there attempted to notify officials in Bangladesh of the activity.
Bangladesh Bank officials said they tried contacting the New York Fed when they returned to work on Sunday—the start of their workweek—and those attempts went unanswered because Sunday was a weekend in New York.
Officials for the central banks didn’t connect until the following Monday.
A New York Fed spokeswoman has previously said the payment instructions the U.S. bank received were fully authenticated and there was no evidence the Fed’s systems were compromised.
Atiur Rahman, who resigned as governor of Bangladesh Bank, said that the bank was slow to react to the breach because it was a “new and unexpected” challenge. “It took a while to understand what hit us,” he said.