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Upon his release in 2006, Gao apparently traveled to ­Macau and the Philippines, where he’d invested as much as $2 million in businesses that ran casino VIP rooms, according to court records. One of those companies was Eastern Hawaii Leisure Co., which would wind up with more than a quarter of the stolen funds from Bangladesh, according to the Philippine Senate report. When Chinese authorities arrested Gao again in 2012, they found he ran one of the biggest gambling networks in the country—one that spanned 29 provinces and had made him more than $8 million. He was sentenced to an additional four years in prison, ­according to a copy of the verdict obtained by Bloomberg Markets.

According to the Senate committee report, Ding, Gao, and Deguito ginned up the accounts using fake names, fake addresses, and fake declarations that Deguito had met the account ­holders in person and confirmed their identities. Assuming the Senate report got the facts right—there was contradictory testimony—the stage was set for laundering what the hackers hoped would be almost $1 billion. “If you have a bank employee who is in connivance with creating these nonexistent people in the first place, it’s easy to launder,” says Vencent Salido, head of investigations at the Philippine government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council, which is leading the local investigation into the theft.

This story is featured in the forthcoming issue of Bloomberg Markets.

Ding, his partner, Gao Shuhua, and the gamblers in tow were probably betting on both the house’s hand and the players’ hands, trying to strike a balance between gains and losses. After all, the important thing for anyone looking to launder money through a casino isn’t to win. It’s to exchange millions of dollars for chips you can swap for cool, untraceable cash at the end of the night.

The FBI and the Bangladeshi government have recently turned their attention to pursuing the Chinese connection in the case, Topacio says. He met twice with FBI agents between May and July. At those meetings, he says, the agents pressed for details about Ding and Gao, as well as about ethnic Chinese doing business in the Philippines such as Wong. Topacio says FBI agents and Bangladeshi law enforcement officials told him the usual path would have taken the laundered funds from the Philippines to Macau and from there, directly or indirectly, to North Korea. While the officials didn’t give any indication that they’d been able to track the funds, they did say their suspicions were backed by the fact that the money was sent to middlemen—Ding and Gao—with direct connections to Macau.

But if Ding and Gao thought they’d gotten away scot-free, they were mistaken. The story didn’t end in the floral-scented VIP room of the Solaire. It just moved on—to China and then maybe even North Korea, home to Lazarus, one of the world’s most active state-sponsored hacking collectives.

Walk along the zig-zag lanes of Chendai, a Chinese town on the Taiwan Strait, and you’ll see a lot of Dings on business signs. They’re a prominent family, part of a Muslim community that settled along this stretch of the coast centuries ago when the region was the main port of entry for foreign traders. While some of the Ding clan built business empires here—manufacturing athletic shoes, for instance—Ding Zhize made a name for himself 600 kilometers (373 miles) down the coast in Macau’s casinos.

Some or all of it may have found its way to North Korea. The FBI is examining the totalitarian state’s link to the hack, ­according to two officials with direct knowledge of the investigation.

What’s required in the case of a theft like the one from Bangladesh Bank is a mix of hacking wizardry to divert the money and some old-school laundering to clean it and cover the trail

For someone supposed to be laundering millions of dollars in stolen funds, with investigators from three countries scrambling to track the money, Ding Zhize was a surprisingly unhurried man. He’d brought a dozen or so high rollers from ­China to play in the glitzy VIP room in MetroManila’s Solaire casino. The game was baccarat. It was late February 2016—still high season for Asian casinos, thanks to the Lunar New Year holiday­—and Ding had been here for days. As red-shirted dealers laid down hand after hand, ­gamblers smoked Double Happiness cigarettes and helped ­themselves to an endless supply of mineral water, lemon tea, and Hennessy XO cognac. The chips they played in a steady stream were valid only in that room. The most valuable ones were ­rectangular plaques worth $20,000.

In an interview last year with Philippine Dragon Media Network, a Chinese-language website, Wong said Gao and Ding had tricked him. He said Gao, a business partner of his since 2007, told him the money had come from a land sale to the Chinese government to make way for a new airport in Beijing. Wong said Gao introduced him to Ding, who claimed he got the money by selling shares in Macau casinos, which he intended to invest in the Philippines. Wong declined to be interviewed for this article.

As for Gao, his wife says the whole affair has brought­ ­nothing but grief. Gao, a devoted gambler, had met Ding at a card table, Yan says. She wouldn’t say when or where. “He knew too many people,” she says. The family compound includes an L-shaped house, parcels of farmland, and a carved stone pagoda set in a big garden five miles north of that planned Beijing airport. Sitting inside, Yan vehemently slaps down all the speculation about her husband. “He has never opened any account or received the money in question,” she says, between drags on her cigarette.

Chinese authorities apparently had better luck. Ding’s former business partner says police from Xiamen, a city near Ding’s hometown, arrested him in March 2017. In ­Chendai, standing next to a Lexus sedan, Ding’s sister-in-law, who declined to give her name, confirmed the arrest but refused to say more. (The Xiamen City Public Security Bureau declined to ­comment for this article.)

As big as it was, the heist could have been a lot bigger. The hackers originally intended to funnel $951 million of Bangladesh Bank’s money into phony accounts, according to various investigations. Via Swift, they fired off a series of messages to the New York Fed to do just that. The theft of the full amount was only averted because, after the initial payments had been made, several transactions were flagged “for sanction compliance review,” according to an April 14, 2016, letter from the Fed to U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat. (In the wake of the Bangladesh theft, Swift took ­measures to prevent such intrusions. “We are fully committed to helping customers in the fight against cyber-attacks,” Patrick Kerkels, the Swift general counsel, said in an emailed response to questions. Swift’s security program, he said, “has demonstrably helped to detect and even prevent successful frauds.”)Since then, Philippine authorities have recovered almost a fifth of the stolen money and returned it to Bangladesh, but most of the rest, after flowing through a series of accounts, a ­money-transfer company, and into local casinos, disappeared into the muggy Manila air.

What galls Salido, among other things, he says, is that he never did manage to interview the elusive Ding and Gao.

For her part, Deguito said she’d been acting on instructions from RCBC bosses. That assertion netted her a libel claim by Lorenzo Tan, the former chief executive officer of RCBC, who also sued Deguito’s lawyer. “Based on our investigation, Ms. Deguito acted alone with the help of some of her co-workers and subordinates at the Jupiter Branch which she headed,” RCBC said in an emailed statement. “Her actions were inimical to her job and against RCBC’s policies, which resulted in her termination and the filing of cases against her.” The bank said it’s confident the Philippine Department of Justice investigation will find that senior executives had no knowledge of Deguito’s actions.

Gao appealed the sentence, and a court cut it by a year, suggesting in its ruling that he’d assisted the police investigation in some unspecified way. He was officially released on medical parole in 2015, court documents show. It’s not clear how much time Gao spent in prison, because corporate records in Macau show him forming a company there in 2014.

Just a few days after the theft, Bangladesh Bank officials asked their Philippine counterparts for help. Yet the gamblers were allowed to play on for weeks, according to reports by the casino’s parent company, Bloomberry Resorts Corp., and the Philippine Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations. Even after the remaining funds were frozen, no charges were filed against Ding, Gao, or the players with them, so Philippine police didn’t make any arrests, says Sergio Osmeña III, a former senator who last year was a member of the inquiry panel. “They waited until it was too late,” he says.

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