3 ATM heist defendants get lighter penalties after appeal

Taipei, --Three foreign defendants in the theft of more than NT$83.27 million (US$2.75 million) from First Bank ATMs last year received lighter penalties from the Taiwan High Court Thursday than were handed down earlier this year by a lower court.

Andrejs Peregudovs from Latvia, Romanian Mihail Colibaba and Moldovan Niklae Penkov were each sentenced to five years in prison and fined NT$600,000 by the Taipei District Court in January for offenses against fraud and computer security. They later filed an appeal.

On Thursday, the high court reduced the penalty to four years and 10 months for Peregudovs, four years and eight months for Colibaba, and four years and six months for Penkov, on the grounds that there is no credible evidence indicating that the suspects were the masterminds behind the fraud.

However, the trio were found to have played key roles in handling the stolen money in the case. In that regard, "strict punishment is a must," the court ruled.

The fine for Peregudovs was reduced to NT$500,000, while Colibaba's was cut to NT$400,000, and Penkov's was adjusted down to NT$300,000, according to the court.

The ruling can still be appealed.

In a statement on the case, the high court suggested a law amendment to increase the penalties for online crimes, which it says change quickly nowadays in terms of the skills and technologies used to commit them.

"No national boundaries can confine online crime. Therefore, mutual legal assistance is a must," the statement said.

The three defendants were arrested on July 17, 2016.

A total of 22 suspects from six countries were involved in the high-profile ATM theft, and 19 suspects who fled the country have been put on a wanted list, according to prosecutors.

The heist occurred between July 9 and July 11 last year when members of the international ring withdrew money from 51 First Bank ATMs in Taipei, New Taipei and Taichung after using malware to hack into the bank's computer system.

The theft came to light when members of the public in Taipei alerted police after seeing two members of the ring collecting cash being dispensed by an ATM in the middle of the night.

Those who made the withdrawals were able to leave the country, and Peregudovs, Colibaba and Penkov entered Taiwan later to recover the money and take it out of Taiwan.

Police were able to track down the three men and recovered more than NT$77 million of the stolen cash. However, nearly NT$5.79 million is still unaccounted for.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel