Bangladesh’s central bank governor quits over $101-million heist

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Dhaka
  • Updated: Mar 15, 2016 17:01 IST
Bangladesh's central bank governor Atiur Rahman at office in Dhaka. (Reuters File Photo)

Bangladesh’s central bank chief Atiur Rahman resigned on Tuesday after hackers stole $101 million from the country’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in one of the biggest bank heists in history.

Rahman, a 64-year-old economist and former university professor, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday afternoon following harsh criticism in the media and fury among the government top brass.

There had been speculation for the past few days that he would quit as Hasina was reportedly angry for the loss.

The heist came as a major blow to Hasina’s government, with reports suggesting that weaknesses in the Bangladesh Bank’s computer system were responsible for the heist.

Rahman comes from a humble background – he is the son of a landless man and tended cows as a boy. He completed his studies despite several ordeals and was selected for an army-run cadet college, after which he did not look back.

He resigned a day after returning from New Delhi, where he had gone to attend an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting. His visit to India was strongly criticised because the government was grappling with the embarrassment of the heist.

Rahman said at a news conference that he had resigned voluntarily. “I submitted my resignation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, she appointed me...tears rolled down from her two eyes,” he said.

“Such cyber attacks are happening across the world, maybe this is new here...we have to be careful, very careful, it’s like an earthquake. When it will hit us, it is very difficult to know...we have lack of experience.”

Rahman said he had taken several steps over the past few weeks to increase cyber security for the Bangladesh Bank.

The heist is being investigated by authorities in Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the money was sent when Chinese hackers allegedly transferred the funds after breaking into Bangladesh Bank’s system on February 4.

Initially, Bangladeshi authorities had blamed the Federal Reserve Bank but it later became clear that the central bank’s computer system did not have adequate protection.

At least 35 transfer requests were made by the hackers and five of them were effective. The money was transferred to four accounts of the Filipino Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and then moved to an account belonging to ethnic Chinese businessman William So Go.

Go then transferred the money to casinos in the Philippines.

The hack occurred on a Friday, when Bangladesh Bank is closed, while the Federal Reserve Bank in New York is closed on Saturday and Sunday. The US bank, which manages the Bangladesh Bank reserve account, denied its own systems were breached.

Hasina and her finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith were furious at Rahman as he failed to inform authorities about the heist secret for a month.

Bangladeshi investigators say the hackers used malware to gain entry into the Bangladesh Bank’s system and to gather information about procedures followed by the central bank while requesting fund transfers.

According to media reports in the Philippines, that country’s anti-money laundering council is drawing up charges against several people for their alleged involvement in the theft. Bangladeshi officials said they had been assured by the Philippines that it would be possible to retrieve some of the money.

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