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Bangladesh seeks to reopen Philippine inquiry into stolen funds

[MANILA] Bangladesh plans to ask legislators in Manila to revive a probe into the disappearance of US$81 million of the South Asian nation's reserves via the Philippine banking system and at least two local casinos.

Two officials from the Bangladesh central bank will meet with Senate President Koko Pimentel later Monday to request the reopening of an investigation that was interrupted by the Philippine elections in May, Bangladesh's ambassador to the Philippines John Gomes said.

The south-east Asian country's banks and casinos have been in the spotlight due to their role in one of the largest bank heists in modern history earlier this year.

Thieves hacked into the Bangladesh Bank's account at the US Federal Reserve, routed the funds to accounts at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp, before most of the money disappeared through the casinos.

The Senate held its last of seven hearings on the disappearance of the money in May, just after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was elected and a new set of legislators took office.

Lawmakers of the previous congress came out with a report in June, which recommended that the nation's casino industry be monitored more closely for possible money laundering.

The new Senate plans to extend money-laundering controls to casinos, as well as art and luxury car dealers, Mr Pimentel told reporters in Manila on Monday. Legislators may also relax rules protecting the secrecy of bank deposits, he said.

As well as the new Senate leader, the Bangladesh representatives will also meet with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco, Anti-Money Laundering Council Executive Director Julia Abad, newly installed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and Solicitor General Jose Calida, Mr Gomes said.

"We are optimistic we will recover US$81 million, nothing short of that," Mr Gomes said. "Maybe it will take time but each and every dollar will be recovered."

BLOOMBERG