Sunday 3 December 2023

Banco Nacional confirms missing ¢3.3 billion in cash!

Neither how nor when: the Banco Nacional has no idea what happened in what could be the biggest bank robbery in Costa Rica's history

Paying the bills


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2 December 2023 - At The Banks - Source: BCCR

Paying the bills


QCOSTARICA — Neither how nor when. The Banco Nacional (BN), has no idea what happened to the billions of colones in cash missing from its vault, in what could be the biggest bank robbery in Costa Rica’s history.

David Villalobos Mora, director of security and investigations at the Banco Nacional (left); Jaime Murillo, interim manager (middle); and Marietta Herrera, legal director (right)

The State bank authorities said on Tuesday they have no idea what happened to the ¢3.293 billion colones (US$6 million dollars at the current exchange rate) that do not appear in the bank’s accounting.

Jaime Murillo, interim general manager of the bank, confirmed that they are analyzing security videos to try to understand how the cash would have been taken from the vaults and the financial statements will also be reviewed to know when.

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“There is no certain indication of how the money was stolen, we do not know yet. If this indeed materializes as a fraud, we have not been able to determine how it was carried out, because it is in an area 100% monitored with cameras.

“We are under the presumption that leaving with a bag of money is not possible, because you cannot enter (the vault area) with anything that appears to be a bag, not even with a lunch bag, and you have to go through a very exhaustive inspection,” Murillo asserted.

Though an anomaly was detected in August, it was not confirmed until the first days of this month, and not until yesterday, Tuesday, October 24, almost a month after being certain of the situation, that the bank filed a formal complaint (file 23-000369-1218-PE) with the Fiscalia (Prosecutor’s Office), as the firing of five bank employees, was made public.

The employees, 4 men and a woman, each with years of working at the bank, were named in the complaint. According to Murillo, the five served in leadership positions of the area, including custody of the General Treasury and supervision of the internal audits or controls of what went in and out of the vault.

Carlo Diaz, the chief prosecutor, confirmed Tuesday that the Fiscalia has opened an ex-officio investigation in the case.

“We have to finish understanding and checking the entire network, that it may have been an inside job because you cannot take out the money one bill at a time.

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“We have the presumption that leaving freely with a bag of cash… well, it wouldn’t be just one, because we are talking about a very large sum, in accordance with the established controls; It is not possible.

“We are looking into the possibility, and that is what we are trying to figure out because there could even be acts or collusion with external parties outside the bank, but that is an assumption, we are not there yet,” Murillo added.

The first alert arose in a review last August but was not confirmed until the beginning of this month in a second line of control.

That means, as Murillo confirmed, that the robbery occurred in August or before, although they cannot say when.

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“The when is part of what we are reconstructing and it is part of all that great study in which we are reviewing it day by day to determine accounting or operational differences.

“At this moment we cannot specify when a difference like this could have originated; Yes, we clearly know what the balances that the treasury manages, so when those jumps in time are graphed we realize that they have a certain consistency from a time ago and at some point in 2023, you have an indication, but still nothing can be concluded,” Murillo stated.

“Why until today?” Murillo asked rhetorically, during the press conference, why it took the bank all this time to make the situation public, explaining that they had been working for weeks and only now did they “have something more concrete” regarding the possible origin of the case.

The missing ¢3.293 billion is equivalent to 21% of the net profits of the ban during the first half of 2023, according to data published on the General Superintendency of Financial Entities (Sugef) website.

Although the bank is not officially calling it a robbery, could this actually be the biggest bank robbery in Costa Rica’s history?

First time in the bank’s history. Murillo confirmed that in the bank’s 109 years of history, there has not been a shortage of this magnitude. “We don’t have an event recorded in history similar to an event like this,” Murillo said.

“Although it is important, the effect it has on the bank’s finances will not affect the solidity or solvency of the organization, much less the resources that our savers have,” Murillo highlighted.

According to the interim GM, if the bank has to assume this loss it would be 0.06% of the base capital of the bank. “The bank affirms that it has the necessary provisions to address any operating loss,” he added.

Murillo concluded the press conference by pointing out that the bank’s client accounts are not affected, nor are their products and services

“This we are in today is a call to our clients to give them peace of mind and confidence. Here, no saver’s funds are being affected at all. We are coming forward as an organization to tell them that, certainly, we have an event of apparent collusion but we are transparently coming forward.” said Murillo.

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Paying the bills
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