• Senator says $50 million of funds appears unrecoverable
  • Bank lawyer says Bangladesh stop-payment orders `confusing'

Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., the Philippine lender implicated in the theft of $81 million of Bangladeshi foreign reserves, would consider repaying part of any funds that can’t be recovered, its president said.

“If we’re found liable, I would recommend to the board to set aside a certain sum,” President Lorenzo Tan told a five-hour Senate hearing in Manila on Tuesday. He was replying to a query from Senator Ralph Recto, who said the bank’s board might want to consider shouldering about $50 million that appeared to be unrecoverable.

Investigators are seeking to track down hackers who attempted to steal almost $1 billion from Bangladesh’s central bank in February. While authorities blocked most of the illicit transfers, $81 million ended up in Rizal Bank, was wired to remittance company Philrem Service Corp. before being sent to casinos where the money trail has gone cold. Almost all of the money is still missing.

Casino operator Kim Wong has said that he turned over about $5.5 million received from two Chinese nationals to the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Council since March 31, and has pledged to return another 450 million pesos ($9.8 million) that he received from one of the men as a debt payment. About $18 million remained with Philrem, Wong told the Senate on March 29, a claim that its officials have denied.

Bangladesh envoy John Gomes told reporters before the start of Tuesday’s hearing that Philrem may turn over funds, which Philrem President Salud Bautista denied during the Senate hearing. Bautista said her company had delivered all $81 million to Wong’s group.

Hackers issued at least 35 Bangladesh Bank SWIFT payment instructions to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York involving $951 million. Of the total, four payments comprising $81 million were later cleared at Rizal Bank.

Rizal Bank had received “confusing” stop payment and freeze requests via e-mail from the Bank of Bangladesh in February, Macel Estavillo, the Philippine lender’s head of legal and regulatory affairs, said at Tuesday’s hearing. The bank didn’t immediately realize that the messages were coming from the central bank, she said.

The lender will “allocate whatever amount we are found liable” by any court, Estavillo said in an interview after the hearing.

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