No step to crack down on money launderers

Sanaullah Sakib | Update:

DollarNo step has been taken as yet to crack down on money launderers, and no progress has been made either to recover the siphoned-off money.

Although Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) unearthed a number of money laundering incidents, there has been no progress in addressing the matter so far. 

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has not recovered any money after it recovering the Tk200 million (20 crore) laundered by late Arafat Rahman Koko, younger son of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia in 2013.

Activities on recovering laundered money are on hold. 

In his budget speech of 2016-17, finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith told the parliament that money laundering had become a global phenomenon.

The National Board of Revenue (NBR) was to create an independent unit to tackle illicit financial flows.

Although money laundering increases, NBR is yet to create it.  

Muhith recently criticised the media reports on the money laundering by Bangladeshis to Swiss banks.

The finance minister in the parliament said business transactions between Bangladesh and Switzerland had increased significantly, which is in no way money laundering.

Muhith also admitted, however, that a certain amount of money is siphoned off.     

According to the annual report of the Swiss National Bank in 2016, Tk55.60 billion (5560 crore) from Bangladesh was deposited in Swiss banks. It was Tk46.27 billion (4627) in 2015.  

In the parliament, Muhith revealed a report prepared by Bangladesh Bank and BFIU.

According to the report, 93 per cent of the money from Bangladeshi banks was deposited in the Swiss banks, which amounts to Tk 51.60 billion (5160 crore).

Only Tk3.99 billion (399 crore) was deposited by individual Bangladeshis.

However, the import-export data shows Bangladesh paid Tk36.87 billion (3687 crore) to Switzerland for import purposes in 2016.  

Bangladesh earned Tk10.22 billion (1022 crore) through export to Switzerland during the period. 

So deposits of Bangladeshi banks in Swiss banks do not tally with the export-import records.

The head of BB intelligence unit and one of the deputy governors Abu Hena Mohammad Razi Hassan said many expatriate Bangladeshis also do business, their deposits were shown in the annual report of Swiss National Bank.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former BB governor Salehuddin Ahmed said the trade between Bangladesh and Switzerland is not large.

BB should find out who are depositing money in the Swiss banks, he suggested.

According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington-based research and advisory organization, Tk728.72 billion (72872 crore) was siphoned off from Bangladesh in 2014.

A lion’s share of the amount was laundered, hiding the real figures during export and import. 

The activities of BFIU were questioned as it did not take any step to tackle money laundering. The unit could not find the deposits of individual Bangladeshis in Swiss banks.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Abu Hena Mohammad Razi Hassan claimed the deposits of Bangladeshis in Swiss banks were decreasing. Most of the money was deposited through banking channels, he defended.

He, however, he admitted BFUI failed to find out who deposited money in Swiss banks. 

About the GFI report, Hassan said, "We do not agree with their report. After investigation of money laundering cases, we are sending reports to ACC which will bring back the money".

According to BB, there is no study as to how many ways the money is siphoned off in name of trade.

The central bank has started working on it.

A committee headed by general manager of the financial stability department of BB Kabir Ahmed has been formed. The committee will formulate a policy to tackle money laundering after carrying out a study.  

*This report originally published in Prothom Alo print edition has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam

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