NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors are building potential cases that would accuse North Korea of directing the theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank's account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.
The charges, if filed, would target alleged Chinese middlemen who prosecutors believed helped North Korea orchestrate the theft, the newspaper said.
Federal Bureau of Investigation offices in Los Angeles and New York have been working on the heist and believe that North Korea is responsible, an official briefed on the probe told Reuters.
A Department of Justice spokesman declined to comment.
The Journal reported that the current cases being pursued may not include charges against North Korean officials, but would likely implicate North Korea, with the United States accusing a foreign government of orchestrating one of the biggest bank robberies of modern times.
The FBI is leading an international investigation into the early September heist, in which hackers breached systems at Bangladesh's central bank and used the SWIFT messaging network to request nearly $1 billion from its account at the New York Fed.
The branch of the U.S. central bank rejected most of the requests but filled some of them, resulting in $81 million disappearing into casinos and other entities in the Philippines. A top police investigator in Dhaka told Reuters in December that some Bangladesh Bank officials deliberately exposed its computer systems, enabling the hackers to get in.
The New York Fed did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Joseph Menn; Editing by Eric Walsh and Jonathan Oatis)