(Adds NSA, SWIFT actions, report on Treasury)
NEW YORK, March 22 U.S. prosecutors are building
potential cases that would accuse North Korea of directing the
theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank's account at the
Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year, and that would
charge alleged Chinese middlemen, the Wall Street Journal
reported on Wednesday.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that North
Korea is responsible for the heist, an official briefed on the
probe told Reuters. Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the U.S.
National Security Agency, publicly suggested on Tuesday that
North Korea may be linked to the incident, while private firms
have long pointed the finger at the reclusive state.
The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter,
reported that prosecutors believe Chinese middlemen helped North
Korea orchestrate the theft from Bangladesh's central bank,
which was among the biggest bank robberies in modern times.
The current cases being pursued may not include charges
against North Korean officials, but would likely implicate the
country, the newspaper reported, with the United States accusing
a foreign government of orchestrating the heist.
A U.S. Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
FBI offices in Los Angeles and New York have been leading an
international investigation into the February 2016 incident, in
which hackers breached Bangladesh Bank's systems and used the
SWIFT messaging network to request nearly $1 billion from its
account at the New York Fed.
The branch of the U.S. central bank rejected most of the
requests but filled some of them, resulting in $81 million
disappearing into casinos and other entities in the Philippines.
A top police investigator in Dhaka told Reuters in December that
some Bangladesh Bank officials deliberately exposed its computer
systems, enabling the hackers to get in.
The incident exposed bungling and miscommunication between
central banks, and left the Fed, Bangladesh, SWIFT, and the
Philippine lender that initially received the funds trading
blame for months.
SWIFT - or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial
Telecommunication that serves as the backbone of global finance
- has since revealed that its messaging system has been targeted
in a "meaningful" number of other attacks last year using a
similar approach as in the Bangladesh incident.
Last week, SWIFT said it planned to cut off the remaining
North Korean banks still connected to its system as concerns
about the country's nuclear program and missile tests grow.
The Journal reported that federal investigators are focusing
on Chinese individuals or businesses who allegedly helped North
Korea orchestrate the heist, and that the U.S. Treasury is
considering sanctions against these alleged middlemen.
The New York Fed and SWIFT declined to comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Joseph Menn; Editing by
Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish)