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FBI Begins Probing Bangladesh’s Huge Cyber Heist as Top Crime Expert Gets Kidnapped

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Bangladesh on Sunday sought the assistance of the FBI in the hunt for the hackers that stole $81 million from its central bank last month, in a massive heist that has taken the South Asian nation by storm.

An FBI official met with Bangladeshi police in the country’s capital Dhaka in order to trace the origin of a fraudulent transfer request for the amount, funneled to casinos in the Philippines from Bangladesh’s account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Reuters reported.

“This is the biggest transnational organized crime ever seen in Bangladesh and so we sought both technical and human assistance [from the FBI],” Mirza Abdullahel Baqui, a senior police official, told Reuters. He added that the perpetrators are believed to have hailed from six different countries.

The cyberheist, one of the largest ever, had targeted close to $1 billion in Bangladeshi government funds but hackers reportedly had over 30 other transfer requests blocked. Another $20 million was transferred to a bank in Sri Lanka (but halted by that country’s central bank), and, according to the Economist, the damage would have been far more extensive had it not been for a typo in one of the hackers’ requests. The Wall Street Journal meanwhile quoted Philippine officials as saying that some of the stolen money was likely converted into gambling chips — a common money-laundering tactic.

The theft has escalated into a major scandal in Bangladesh, with the central bank’s governor, Atiur Rahman, and several top officials resigning last week amid accusations of negligence. Even as Rahman’s replacement — former Financial Secretary Fazle Kabir — took over on Sunday, reports emerged that one of the country’s leading cybercrime experts was kidnapped while participating in the investigation.

Tanvir Hassan Zoha was abducted from an auto rickshaw in Dhaka last Thursday, his wife told Reuters, just over 24 hours after he had met with the police and told media that he knew three of the user IDs involved in the heist.

“We don’t know why he was picked up,” Kamrun Nahar Chowdhury said of her husband’s disappearance, adding that she had appealed to the Bangladeshi government after police refused to investigate.

The government, meanwhile, has formed an investigative committee under former central bank governor Mohammad Farashuddin, which began its own inquiry on Sunday into the bank’s security breach.

“This is a wake-up call,” Farashuddin said.


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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com