Over €4m belonging to Meath County Council has been frozen in a bank account in Hong Kong after gardaí interrupted an attempt to steal the money.

Seven weeks ago, the council was the victim of what is known as a "CEO fraud" whereby large sums of money are transferred to criminals on foot of a bogus instruction in the name of a company chief executive.

Meath County Council was targeted and €4.3m was transferred from its Irish bank abroad on 28 October.

However officers from the gardaí’s money laundering unit intervened and succeeded in having the money frozen and secured in a bank in Hong Kong.

The money has not yet been returned as the bank there is seeking further assurances in relation to the money but officials believe it will be returned.

Invoice redirect and CEO fraud is estimated to cost the global economy over €2.8bn annually.

It is believed as much as €20m has been stolen in this fashion from Irish companies.

Meath County Council confirmed the theft of its money in a statement issued today.

In the statement, the council said there was a recent "sophisticated attempt" to steal €4.309m from its bank account, which was "detected before the transaction was completed".

"The funds have been secured and the matter is now the subject of criminal investigations and legal proceedings in Ireland and abroad," said the statement.

"In light of the ongoing investigations, the council has been advised to make no further comment on the matter at this time," added the statement.

The bank involved is understood to be Bank of Ireland. It is making no comment.

Sinn Féin Councillor in Meath Darren O'Rourke said: "This is a really shocking story. The sum involved, over €4.3m, is staggering.

"Of utmost importance now is that the transfer of funds back into Meath County Council's account happens as soon as possible and that every effort is made to secure a successful prosecution against those involved," said Mr O'Rourke.

Fianna Fáil TD for Meath East Thomas Byrne said: "I will be seeking assurances that cyber security procedures within Meath County Council are at their highest possible level.

"It is also important that other local authorities across the country examine their own internal cyber security procedures to ensure they do not fall victim to a similar attack," said Mr Byrne.