North Korea Explores New and Innovative Options to Avoid Sanctions

When Depression-era bad man Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” It looks like the North Koreans have come to the same conclusion:

Federal prosecutors are building cases that would accuse North Korea of directing one of the biggest bank robberies of modern times, the theft of $81 million from Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year, according to people familiar with the matter.

The charges, if filed, would target alleged Chinese middlemen who prosecutors believe helped North Korea orchestrate the theft, the people said.

The current cases being pursued may not include charges against North Koreans, but would likely implicate North Korea, people close to the process said.

In the heist, cyberthieves used the SWIFT access codes of Bangladesh’s central bank in one February 2016 weekend to transfer $81 million from the bank’s account at the New York Fed to four bank accounts in the Philippines.

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.

Maybe. Maybe not.

A more logical reading is that the Obama administration did nothing with the case for fear of offending the North Koreans. The Trump administration is taking a markedly different direction. China is fed up with North Korea’s antics and the new sanctions the administration plans to impose on North Korea will target Chinese middlemen, not North Korean entities proper. Indicting Chinese nationals in this robbery will bring another pain point into focus for the Chinese.