18 January 2019
Governor Atiur Rahman said he resigned to set an example in accountability and uphold the image of the central bank. Photo: Bloomberg
Governor Atiur Rahman said he resigned to set an example in accountability and uphold the image of the central bank. Photo: Bloomberg

Bangladesh central bank chief quits over US$81 mln cyber heist

Bangladesh’s central bank governor Atiur Rahman resigned on Tuesday following demands of accountability from the government after US$81 million was stolen from the bank’s US account in one of the largest cyber heists ever.

Rahman, who returned to Dhaka late on Monday after attending a weekend International Monetary Fund conference in New Delhi, told Reuters that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had accepted his resignation.

The government also fired two deputy governors of the bank, Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said, days after blaming it for keeping the government in the dark about the theft.

Rahman, 65, said he resigned to set an example in a country where there is not much precedence of accountability and to uphold the image of the central bank.

“I took responsibility,” Rahman said.

A former finance secretary, Fazle Kabir, would be the new governor, the finance minister said.

Unknown hackers breached the computer systems of Bangladesh Bank and attempted to steal US$951 million from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which it uses for international settlements, between Feb. 4 and Feb. 5.

They managed to transfer US$81 million to entities in the Philippines, and the money was further diverted to casinos in that country.

More than US$30 million of the money that was stolen was handed over in cash to an ethnic Chinese man in Manila, a Philippines senator looking into the suspected laundering scheme said.

The businessman, identified as Kam Sin Wong or Kim Wong, has left the Philippines even before the story about the infusion of the money into the country’s banking system broke, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

Bangladesh Bank officials have said there is little hope of apprehending the perpetrators and recovering the money would be difficult and could take months, Reuters said.

Rahman’s exit could be a blow to Bangladesh, a South Asian nation of 160 million.

The country has been aspiring to reach middle-income status, and Rahman was seen as one of the driving forces helping Dhaka towards that goal.

A former development economics professor, Rahman took over as the central bank governor in May 2009, and was nearing the end of his second term.

One of his signature achievements has been shoring up the country’s foreign exchange reserves, which have increased four-fold to US$28 billion under his watch.

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