The American Lawyer named Tai-Heng Cheng as its “Litigator of the Week” for his representation of Philippines-based Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in a closely watched international cyber-hacking and money laundering case. On March 20, 2020, Southern District of New York Judge Lorna Schofield granted a motion to dismiss the case against RCBC and other defendants. Bangladesh Bank initiated the lawsuit based on alleged RICO violations as well as state law claims and sought US$81 million in damages. The case involved hacking into the New York Federal Reserve by North Korean cybercriminals to empty out the U.S. dollar foreign reserves of Bangladesh and laundering the funds through casinos in the Philippines. This event is the largest money laundering incident involving the Philippines and has been closely watched by central banks, financial institutions and casinos worldwide.
Drawing on two decades of experience, Tai devised a three-pronged strategy for RCBC. He worked with counsel for the casinos to file a motion to dismiss for lack of federal jurisdiction, arguing that the federal RICO claim failed because this was an isolated incident rather than an ongoing pattern of racketeering. He then persuaded the Court not to exercise its jurisdiction over the state law claims by showing the court that there were other reputable courts seized of the matter. He worked with local Philippine counsel for RCBC to counter-sue Bangladesh Bank for defamation of character and served senior officials from the bank when they were in the Philippines. Finally, at the first procedural hearing, Tai used oral argument as an early opportunity to challenge federal jurisdiction. He raised sufficient doubts with the Court that it concluded it should not grant discovery pending its motion to dismiss. This innovative strategy resulted in the complete dismissal of the case without any discovery having been taken.