First Bank ATM robbers receive reduced prison sentences

Three foreign suspects involved in First Bank ATM robbery receive lighter prison sentence.

Suspects of First Bank ATM heist from left to right Nicolae Pencov, Andrejs Peregudovs and Mihail Colibaba. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—Taiwan’s High Court decreased the original five-year prison sentence each for three Eastern Europeans over the robbery of First Bank ATMs last July in the second trial to sentences ranging from four years and six months to four years and 10 months.

Prosecutors originally demanded Latvian Andrejs Peregudovs, Mihail Colibaba from Romania, and Nicolae Pencov from Maldova to be each handed a 12-year prison sentence, over the First Bank ATM heist on July 10, 2016, which involved the theft of NT$83 million (US$2.59 million) from 20 cardless ATM machines.

However, the sentence was significantly reduced, due to lack of evidence that the three were the masterminds of the robbery, and current limitations in the law to support such a ruling.

The judges' ruling was based on current Criminal Code Article 339-2, which caps imprisonment at three years for criminals that unlawfully seize property of others or of a third person through an ATM, and the upper limit of the fine is set at NT$300,000.

Judges ruling in the first trial was based on Criminal Code Article 359 for a person that illegally obtains, deletes or alters another person's computer data, and causes injury or losses to the public. The maximum fine under the article was capped at NT$600,000.

In the second trial, Peregudovs, Colibaba, and Pencov were fined NT$500,000, NT$400,000 and NT$300,000 respectively.

Once the three suspects serve the full-term of their sentence they will be deported from Taiwan.

Legal experts are calling for new law amendments to raise the penalty for hacking ATMs, and demanded improving international law enforcement collaborations to improve investigations of multinational criminal groups.

The three suspects belonged to a criminal syndicate of 22 members that planned the grand theft last year, by remotely hacking and compromising First Bank's 20 cardless ATMs throughout Taiwan.

Out of the 22 member group, 19 suspects departed Taiwan before authorities could catch them.

So far NT$77 million out of the stolen NT$83 million was successfully retrieved and finally returned to First Bank on May 12, 2017.

The three criminals only admitted to being involved in transporting the stolen money, but denied to have conceived the robbery plan or were knowledgeable in coding.

Peregudovs claimed he was in debt and tricked into transporting the stolen money by a friend, moreover, the criminal group threatened to murder his wife and daughter if he failed to comply.

The 41-year-old pleaded to judges for a lighter prison sentence, due to his incurable Lyme disease.

Fellow suspect Colibaba claimed he was taken advantage of and duped into transporting the stolen money after he took a loan from a friend.

According to Colibaba, he already paid a hefty price over the robbery, since his house was seized by banks following his arrest.

Meanwhile, Pencov admitted to committing the crime and getting what he deserved, but asked for a lighter sentence from judges so he could take care of his retired parents.