Trail in Ecuador
cyberheist leads to gamers’ crash pad in Hong Kong
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[June 01, 2016]
By Clare Baldwin and Nathan Layne
HONG KONG/CHICAGO (Reuters) - The paper
trail left behind by $12 million stolen from a hacked Ecuadorian
bank runs cold in a windowless gamers’ crash pad in a gritty
industrial area of Hong Kong.
The room, in a former factory in the Kwun Tong district, is the
registered address for Jiushun Group Co., Ltd., the firm that
received the largest single transfer of the $12 million reported
missing from Ecuador's Banco del Austro (BDA) in January 2015.
King Yuen - an unemployed 25-year-old and a regular at the room’s
all-night gaming sessions and mahjong contests - said he had never
heard of Jiushun Group, and he had no idea where the stolen millions
ended up. Still, Yuen was not surprised to learn the loot landed in
Hong Kong, having heard of such schemes when he mixed drinks in the
city’s downtown financial district, he said.
“The prize is just bigger this time," Yuen told Reuters.
For a graphic tracing the money trail from Ecuador to Hong Kong,
The $12 million taken from BDA and the $81 million cyberheist from
the Bangladesh central bank's accounts at the New York Federal
Reserve in February have illuminated weaknesses in the global money
In both the Bangladesh and Ecuador cases, hackers exploited the
SWIFT messaging system, which is used to move hundreds of billions
of dollars and other currencies each day among commercial and
central banks. The banking industry's high confidence in SWIFT has
been shaken because, in both cases, cyber thieves infiltrated the
banks' systems and sent fraudulent transfer requests through the
In the Ecuador heist, SWIFT was unaware of the January 2015 attack
until Reuters contacted the cooperative last month.
The two unsolved cases also highlight how thieves could launder
proceeds through existing money laundering networks in Asia. The
heists may have required sophisticated hacking tools, but tactics
used in the getaway - transporting and stashing the money - are as
old as bank robbery itself.
In the Bangladesh Bank case, the criminals sent their loot to
lightly regulated casinos in the Philippines, leading to a
government inquiry in that country. In the case of the Ecuadorian
commercial bank, they sought cover in Hong Kong's shadowy world of
shell companies, according to court records filed in the United
States and Hong Kong arising from BDA’s efforts to recover its
BDA declined to comment.
Hong Kong is known as a free and open financial center - but also a
destination for illicit money flows, made possible by practices that
allow paper companies to proliferate.
The undemanding disclosure laws make Hong Kong attractive to money
launderers, said Mike Kenealy, chief operating officer of risk and
compliance consultancy Insiders Corp.
“These companies are often set up for ill-gotten gains and as
vehicles of corruption," he said. "Once the money starts moving, it
gets laundered, converted and disappears without a trace."
Another Hong Kong company in the BDA case - Regal Prosper Trading
Ltd. - was set up by a woman who served as a director for 200
companies. Regal’s current director, Chen Jianan, listed a home
address that does not exist in Hong Kong, but appears to combine two
different provinces on China’s coast, according to company registry
HIDING THE MONEY
A look at Jiushun Group shows how hard it can be to trace business
activities and money flows in Hong Kong.
Jiushun Group received $1.968 million wired from Ecuador, by way of
the United States, according to the court filings.
But Jiushun's corporate registry filings list the factory building
game room as its office address. They disclose the name of only one
director, Chen Sheng Rong, who could not be located for comment.
There is no mention of its business lines or figures for profit or
sales, a lack of disclosure standard for Hong Kong’s private
[to top of second column]
A view of the registered office address of the corporate secretary
for Jiushun Group Co Ltd in Hong Kong May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby
A Hong Kong High Court judge in the BDA case described Jiushun and three other
companies as appearing to be inactive corporate vehicles controlled by Chinese
Those four companies received $9 million in the Ecuador heist. Roughly $3
million was promptly transferred to 19 other companies’ accounts, the court
BDA has settled with or withdrawn claims against 5 of the companies involved,
but not Jiushun.
In the Kwun Tong district, the web of Jiushun connections seems to expand from
person to person and place to place - without offering many hints where the BDA
Yuen, the former bartender, said a person named Chan Ting-fung signed the lease
on the gaming room and that Chan has a female friend from mainland China in her
30s who receives business correspondence in the mailbox, paying a portion of the
rent to do so. Chan could not be reached to comment on that connection. Yuen
said he did not know the name of Chan’s friend.
Around the corner from the gaming space is a tennis-themed sports shop, which is
listed as the address for the firm that performed legally required secretarial
services for Jiushun Group.
Two employees of the tennis shop told Reuters they received two sealed letters
from the High Court soon after they moved into the factory-turned-office space
in December 2015, nearly a year after the theft.
The tennis-shop employees said they were not the intended recipients and did not
open the notices.
Of the $1.968 million that went to Jiushun, $219,794 was passed on by Jiushun to
jewelry wholesaler Samdimon HK Limited, according to a Hong Kong High Court
decision citing bank transfer details from HSBC.
Samdimon's registration lists Shailesh Ganmal Jain as its director.
In a ruling related to the case, High Court Judge Conrad Seagroatt called a
statement submitted by Jain explaining the source of the funds in Sandimon’s
account “convoluted" and "just not credible.”
Exactly what Jain said was not detailed in the court filing, but the record
describes his statement as contending that BDA had failed to acquaint itself
with the nature and extent of the jeweler's business.
Jain told Reuters by email he was bound by a court order to remain silent. “I
don’t want to disclose anything to you right now,” he told Reuters in a brief
Back in Kwun Tong, Yuen said he was concerned about the suggestion that his
gaming pad could have some connection to an unsolved cybercrime.
The size of the heist is unimaginable to an unemployed bartender with under
$1,300 to his name, he said.
“I had no idea,” he said, “I have my savings account, just HK$10,000 – maybe!”
(The story corrects stolen amount to $12 million from $2 million in the first
(Reporting By Clare Baldwin in Hong Kong and Nathan Layne in Chicago; Additional
reporting by Tris Pan in Hong Kong; editing by David Greising and Kevin Krolicki)
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