|New York Federal Reserve Bank|
Federal prosecutors are building cases that would accuse North Korea of directing one of the biggest bank robberies of modern times, the electronic theft of $81 million from Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The charges, if filed, would target alleged Chinese middlemen who prosecutors believe helped North Korea orchestrate the theft, according to the paper.
The efforts to build federal cases, people familiar with the process said, reflect a decision at the Justice Department that there is merit to the view of some private security researchers that the Fed heist was linked to the hacking in 2014 of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed on North Korea.
The U.S. attorney’s offices and FBI field offices in Los Angeles and Manhattan had both been investigating the theft, but Los Angeles took the leading role within the past year.
That shift occurred because government investigators linked the code used to perpetrate the Bangladesh cyberheist with the Sony hack, which authorities in Los Angeles had been investigating.
Richard Ledgett, the deputy director of the National Security Agency, said he was “optimistic about the truth of that,” when asked about reports of a connection between the two cybercrimes.
“If that linkage is true, that means a nation-state is robbing banks. That is a big deal; it’s different,” he said on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the Aspen Institute.
But, according to the paper, there remains a minority view among some federal officials that the evidence doesn’t prove beyond a doubt that North Korea was behind the Bangladesh theft, according to people familiar with the discussions. Some officials believe the hackers who carried out the Bangladesh heist may have appropriated, tweaked or repurposed the malicious code that the U.S. government made public after the Sony hack—which wouldn’t necessarily indicate they are linked to North Korea—the people familiar with the discussions said.