January 22, 2009

Plot to steal $320M from bank alleged

An international gang conspired to steal nearly $320 million from customer accounts at the London office of Japan's No. 3 bank, prosecutors told a jury.

The only reason the plot failed was because two Belgian computer hackers failed to fill in one of the fields in the SWIFT system used to make money transfers, prosecutors told Snaresbrook Crown Court jurors.

Bank security supervisor Kevin O'Donoghue, 34, of Birmingham, England, had smuggled the computer hackers into the London offices of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. by pretending they were friends who had arrived for a game of cards, prosecutors said.

The hackers installed keystroke-logging spy software that recorded employees' names and passwords at the bank's European headquarters in London, they said.

Then one Saturday morning in October 2004 the hackers returned to the bank and tried to transfer the money to foreign bank accounts using the stolen security information, prosecutor Simon Farrell said.

The targeted accounts were said to include Toshiba International Corp., Nomura Asset Management Co., Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. and Sumitomo Chemical Co., The Times of London reported.

When the money didn't transfer successfully, they returned to the bank that afternoon for a second attempt. In total they attempted 21 transfers, prosecutors said.

O'Donoghue and alleged hackers Jan Van Osselaer, 32, and Gilles Poelvoorde, 34, both from Belgium, have admitted their roles in the conspiracy, the Times said.

A British businessman accused of setting up the international money laundering for the funds, and two alleged accomplices, denied being part of the plot.