A team from Taiwan’s Criminal Investigations Bureau arrived in Colombo this week as part of a probe into an international multi-million US dollar hacking scam of a Taipei-based bank where two businessmen with foreign passports have been taken into custody in Colombo.
Litro Gas Chairman Shahlila Moonesinghe, a British passport holder of Sri Lankan descent, and J.C. Nammuni, a businessman who owns a metal quarry with dual UK citizenship were arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) on allegations of colluding with an international ring of hackers to plant malware in the Far Eastern International Bank computers in Taiwan to make bogus cash.
The first intimation of their alleged involvement came early this week when the Sri Lanka National Central Bureau of the Interpol, which functions at the CID headquarters in Colombo received an urgent alert by Interpol that hackers had infiltrated the SWIFT system at the Far Eastern International Bank in Taipei (Taiwan) to create a false bank-to-bank transaction. This was by sending malware encoded mail that is automatically downloaded into the computer system enabling hackers to order false transfers. SWIFT is a members-only organisation of financial institutions including banks that provide safe and secure financial transactions through standardised communications.
The report from Interpol said the hackers had moved funds to accounts in the United States, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. Senior DIG and CID chief Ravi Seneviratne, who was responding to the alert, hurriedly detailed a team to track down the recipients. In the US, the money had been wired to accounts at Citibank while in Sri Lanka it has been to accounts at the Bank of Ceylon. The CID team examined surveillance camera footage and later identified Mr. Moonesinghe and Mr. Nammuni had been recipient of the transfers. They had personally drawn funds from their accounts.
Though US$ 1.103,980 (US$1.1 million) had been received by the Bank of Ceylon. CID detectives had put a stop to the bulk of the funds being withdrawn in Colombo. These funds had been sent in April this year to an SIA account (Securities Investment Account), an instrument which facilitates inward remittances to Sri Lanka for investment purposes.
A BOC spokesman told the Sunday Times that SIA accounts by their very nature receive bulk amounts of money from time to time for investment activities from international investors and that when the bank was informed by the corresponding bank (Citibank) that the transactions from the Taipei bank were fraudulent, they had informed the CID and the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).
CID detectives found that among the funds that had arrived were two different remittances of Rs 30 million each. Detectives have seized six million rupees from Mr. Munasinghe. Police sources said they had also blocked Rs 160 million as investigations continued.
CID detectives want to question two Indian nationals who had arrived in Colombo from Dubai and assisted the two Sri Lankan born businessmen in trying to obtain part of the remittances. They believe the two Indian nationals who had left for Dubai in the meantime were part of a ring of hackers.
In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, the Vice President of the Far Eastern International Bank said that the origin of the malware had not been confirmed so far. However, he said, that the computer virus that had been used to hack the bank’s computers was a new variety.
The arrest of Mr. Moonesinghe had led to another revelation. He had been the leader of the New Democratic Party, one recognised by the Election Commission. Its symbol, the swan, was used by the then Joint Opposition candidate, Maithripala Sirsena for the January 8, 2015 Presidential election.
Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya has said he was unaware that Mr. Moonesinghe held that position. Commission officials are now investigating the matter. One source said Mr. Moonesinghe could face separate charges for making a false declaration if he is found to have claimed that he is now a Sri Lankan national.
Both, Mr. Moonesinghe and Mr. Nammuni have been remanded till October 25 while investigations are proceeding.