Thursday 7 December 2023

Costa Rica biggest bank heist: What do we know?

The state-owned Banco Nacional (BNCR) has filed complaints against five workers for embezzlement after billions of colones in cash went missing from bank vault

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7 December 2023 - At The Banks - Source: BCCR

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QCOSTARICA — Last week, authorities from the Costa Rica State bank, Banco Nacional de Costa Rica (BNCR) announced publicly that they are investigating the disappearance of ¢3.293 billion colones (some US $6.2 million dollars or €5.9 million euros) from the bank’s vault.

According to calculations, ¢3.293 billion is equivalent to 160 thousand ¢20,000 bills. A lot of cash to haul out in one lump sum.

It is the largest bank heist in Costa Rica’s history.

“We cannot say for sure that this is fraud or that someone stole this cash,” the bank’s interim manager Jaime Murillo, sitting in for Bernardo Alfaro, general manager of the BNCR, who was said to be attending to his normal work schedule, told a press conference last Tuesday.

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“We are not at that point yet. It is under investigation,” added Murillo, who also confirmed that on October 3, the bank had suspended five trusted bank employees, some with decades working at the bank, and a criminal complaint had been filed on October 24 against the employees with the Fiscalia (Prosecutor’s Office).

The interim manager said the missing cash is equivalent to 0.06% of the bank’s assets.

What do we know about the alleged heist?

Murillo, at the press conference, said bank staff noticed the money was missing on October 3 but Murillo, said the incident most likely must have taken place months earlier, in August or even earlier.

The five suspended workers, four men and a woman, with supervisory functions in the area of Cash Administration, custody and accounting, are accused of embezzlement and a breach of duties.

No arrests have been made.

Murillo was emphatic that client’s money at the state-owned bank is not at risk.

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By the end of the week, on Friday, October 27,  Alfaro shared a video saying “The bank will not rest until the investigation reaches its final consequences”.

In the statement, Alfaro assured that he owes a “sincere apology” to the Costa Ricans for the situation that the bank is going through and that these are difficult times for all of us who work, believe and trust in this institution. “I must admit that it hurts me, it saddens me and it outrages me”.

Queridos costarricenses como gerente general del Banco Nacional de Costa Rica les debo una sincera disculpa por la situación que estamos atravesando en estos momentos. Son tiempos difíciles para todos los que trabajamos, creemos y confiamos en esta institución. Debo reconocer que me duele, me entristece y me indigna,” said Alfaro.

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For his part, the President of Costa Rica, Rodrigo Chaves, stated that the BNCR situation left him stunned.

“One is stunned that something like this happens in the country. This seems like something out of a movie (…) Since I’m a little curious, I did a calculation. Those ¢3.2 billion are equivalent to 160 thousand ¢20,000 bills. How is it possible? This is not a robbery from the Banco Nacional, it is a robbery from Costa Ricans,” said Chaves.

Chaves added a report is expected this week from the bank that will be discussed by the Government Cabinet and the Attorney General’s Office, with the aim of making the corresponding criminal and administrative decisions.

The Banco Nacional

The Banco Nacional de Costa Rica is the largest commercial bank in Costa Rica and the second largest in Central America by assets. It has a 49% stake in Banco de Costa Rica International Limited (BICSA), incorporated in Panama entity, and 100% of the shares of BN-Securities (Stock Exchange Market), BN-Vital (Operator owner pension fund), BN-SAFI (Mutual Funds) and BN insurance broker.

Founded as the Banco Internacional de Costa Rica on April 20, 1877; changing the name to Banco Nacional de Costa Rica in 1948. The bank’s current assets is believed to be US$7,209 billion; the number of employees is 5,800.




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