UK Cops Swoop on Malta Bank Heist Suspects

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UK law enforcers have tightened the net around the hackers that stole €13m ($14.4m) from one of Malta’s biggest banks, with the arrest of four men last week.

Malware planted on the Bank of Valletta’s servers back in February 2019 enabled hackers to transfer the money to accounts in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Czech Republic. The lender was forced to shut down all its operations after spotting the illegal activity and attempting to prevent the fund transfers.

However, £800,000 ($1m) was funnelled to an account in Belfast, with payments totalling £340,000 ($446,000) then disappearing from the account before it could be blocked.

According to the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), some of the money was spent at luxury stores including Harrods and Selfridges, to buy Rolex watches, and to purchase a Jaguar and an Audi A5.

Following the trail of money, NCA officers arrested three men on Friday on suspicion of money laundering, fraud and theft. These included a 33-year-old detained at Heathrow Airport as he returned to the UK from China, and two men aged 23 and 24 who handed themselves into a police station in Belfast.

These were preceded by the arrest of another Belfast man, aged 39, a day earlier, on suspicion on the same crimes, and the apprehension of two men aged 22 and 17 in London on January 22 after raids on properties in West Hampstead and Ladbroke Grove.

The arrests represent the latest stage in a 12-month investigation by the NCA and Malta Police Force Economic Crime Unit.

“The focus of our investigation is those suspected of having helped launder the proceeds of this cyber-attack, a large amount of which were funnelled through a bank account here in Belfast,” said NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham.

“It demonstrates how this type of criminality is often international in nature, and how tackling it is a priority for the National Crime Agency and partners, both within the UK and around the world.”

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