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Factors in curbing Money Laundering Bangladesh Perspective By – Md. Kamruzzaman Bablu

National

Amassing money for sustaining luxurious life and golden future is a common habit of most of the human beings. Since the very beginning of civilization such mentality is seen in the character of some people of all human societies. Moreover, a good number of people are found addicted to money. Though it’s nothing fault or religiously prohibited to preserve adequate fund for leading normal life and keeping the next generation solvent, piling up illicit fund depriving others is not acceptable in any civil society and religion; rather it’s considered to be a derisive practice everywhere.
With the span of time there is a huge change in earning and reserving funds. Especially, we mark a revolutionary change in this regard following the enactment of paper currency, internet or online-based money exchange and rapid growth of international banking system due to the globalization. The malpractice of destructive money laundering enters in human nature through these developments.
Naturally all desire to keep their money safe. For this reason, people even stored their wealth especially gold currency and the like in pitcher and buried those in deep ground. We have heard or read such type of myths or stories many times since our childhood. But piling up money and other precious possessions in personal goddown (warehouse) is not a myth at all; rather it’s a historically established fact.
The Holy Quran tells us a fantastic story about the addiction of reserving personal fund and properties. The story is about a greedy Croesus (billionaire) Jews. His name was Karun, a member of the Boni Israel tribe. He was such a rich man that a good number of strong youths were needed to carry the keys of his personal goddowns’ locks. When Karun came out publicly with luxurious and gorgeous look, people lamented — ‘if we were as Karun’ or ‘if we had wealth like Karun’ or ‘if we were happy as Karun’. But there was none to save Karun when soil horribly captured him along with his all properties due to his sins.
The story of Karun has been narrated in the 28th Surah of the Holy Quran, Al Qasas. From 76th to 82nd verses of the Surah tell about Karun and his ultimate fate. The 81st and 82nd verses of the Surah specifically tell us about the final consequence of Karun’s arrogance. “Thus, We caused the earth to swallow him (Karun) and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who (could) defend themselves. And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, oh, how Allah extends provision to whom He wills of His servants and restricts it! If not that Allah had conferred favor on us, He would have caused it to swallow us. Oh, how the disbelievers do not succeed!”
The addiction of reserving fund like Karun is still available. The situation of Bangladesh is also same. Actually, those desperate to protect their money and properties — whatever it legal or illegal — drain off those to abroad for safety especially at the period of political turmoil. Mainly, people do it to keep their money safe so that they and their next generation can enjoy it. The recent report of a US-based think-tank shows the horrible picture of siphoning out money from Bangladesh.
The headline of the English national daily “The Dhaka Tribune” on 3rd May (2017) was “$61.63bn capital drained from Bangladesh in a decade”. A few parts of the report are as follows:  “On average, $6.16 billion was siphoned out of Bangladesh a year between 2005 and 2014. Unrecorded capital flow from Bangladesh stood $61.63 billion between 2005 and 2014, riding mostly on misinvoicing, according to a report of Global Financial Integrity (GFI)”.
The non-profit Washington-based research and advisory organization GFI unveiled the report, titled “Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) to and from Developing Countries: 2005-2014”, on 1st May 2017.
The headline of a report published in “The Independent”, one of the oldest national English dailies, on 3rd May (2017) was “Tk 3.57 lakh crore swindled in 2005–14 from Bangladesh, reports US think-tank”. The sub-head of the report was “Money laundering rises with every passing year”. The report says, “Some Tk. 3.57 lakh crore (USD 446,15 crore)—an amount bigger than the size of Bangladesh’s current national budget—has been swindled from the country over a period of 10 years till 2014. On an average, Tk. 35,992 crore has been swindled abroad each year.”
But why such gross and destructive practice of money laundering and how can it be restrained? The Tribune report also quotes some noted economists and experts. The issues like corruption, lack of good governance, political instability and poor infrastructural facilities for investment and the like have been focused by the experts.
Former chief economist of Bangladesh Bank, Biru Paksha Paul, pointed out that under-invoicing (showing low cost) in export   and over-invoicing (showing more cost) in import are the key drivers behind illicit capital flight. If misinvoicing can be controlled, around 50% illegal capital flight could be stopped. He also suggested increasing capacity of ports and adopting scientific monitoring to control misinvoicing.
Former finance adviser to a caretaker government AB Mirza Azizul Islam, however, emphasized on removal of political uncertainty to prevent illicit capital flight. The government should ensure investment-friendly atmosphere in the country so that people can make investment easily.
The executive director of Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRIB) and former official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dr Ahsan H Mansur, called the volume of money laundered from Bangladesh a matter of concern while talking the Independent on 3rd May 2017. He informed that the amount of laundered money was more than the foreign aid the country receives every year.
“The country has lost an amount that could have gone to construct a bridge like the Padma Multipurpose Bridge every year and, even then, more money could have been saved,” he pointed out. He also opined that the money was being laundered mostly because of a lack of confidence, the condition of lifestyles, and the state of social services, such as safety and security, educational standards and medical services.
The 4th May (2017) headline of another old English national daily “The New Nation” was “Multi-billion capital flight from BD: Poor investment climate, political volatility blamed”. The report says, “Economists and criminology experts point out poor investment climate and political uncertainty of the country as the reasons behind the huge amount of capital flight from Bangladesh. Besides, lack of good governance, weak anti-money laundering authority and poor anti-corruption activities also blamed for the chronic unethical practice.”
The New Nation also interviewed Dr Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on this issue. He opined, “Private sector investment in our country decreased in the last couple of years but import has increased during the same time which made us to think that a section of people are laundering money through over invoicing. Infrastructural drawback of the country discouraged businessmen to make fresh investment. On the other hand, political uncertainty encourages them to send their cash to a safe place.”
The report also quotes Dr Md Ziaur Rahman, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Criminology under Dhaka University. He said, “Not only businessmen but politicians and bureaucrats are also largely siphoning off their illegal earnings to a safe place. We all know that the central bank has not approved a single application to invest in Malaysia under Malaysia my Second Home project (MM2H) in the last one decade but Bangladesh stood second highest investor under the privilege. It is a clear sign of siphoning off money from the country. Similarly, many people are buying luxurious houses and investing different types of business like filling stations, departmental stores and coffee houses in Australia, Canada and Singapore illegally. These people are also in free movement in Bangladesh.  What our anti-corruption and anti money laundering bodies are doing? ”
Meanwhile, the ruling side is categorically uttering self-defending words. For example, Bangladesh Bank Executive Director Subhankar Saha told the Dhaka Tribune on 3rd May (2017): “I do not prefer to comment on the finding of GFI report as data used in the report are based on perception and not justified.”
Even, the Chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Md Nojibur Rahman raised questions about the accuracy of GFI report.  The headline of the “Dhaka Tribune” on 4th May 2017 was “NBR chief questions accuracy of GFI report on money laundering”. Mr. Rahman said, “We are examining the GFI report on money laundering though there are questions about the methodology of the report which did not clearly mention the sources of information…Though the amount of illicit financial outflows from the country may not be as big as reported, the tax authority will remain alert and active against money laundering whatever the amount is.”
One fact is important — the NBR chairman informed that they were examining the GFI report and simultaneously remarked that illicit financial outflows may not be as big as reported. The reality is that the figure of the illicit outflow may be bigger than that of in the US report as it was based on the facts and findings available to them. There might have some more channels of such outflow that were untouched by the US think-tank.  So how can the chairman comment that the reported figure may be lower?
In fact, most of the money launders earn illicit money and want to hide the sources of their income. Their dream is to ensure the luxurious life of them. Some others think that the money is not safe in the country and they take the path of laundering. So the most common reason of money laundering is to save illicit capital.
Moreover, most of the experts emphasize on curbing corruption, establishing political stability and developing law and order situation. But, what is the reality? Who will curb corruption? Who will establish political stability? Who will develop law and order? If the most powerful personalities are alleged guilty of corruption but get relief without any charge, how can be corruption curbed?
I like to mention a report published in the country’s first online news portal “The BD News 24” on 30th April 2016. The headline of the news was “Khaleda wants to know source of money of prime minister’s son Joy”. A few part of the report was as follows: “Referring to the imprisonment of the son of an expatriate BNP leader in the US, Khaleda said, ‘an expatriate Bangladeshi youth collected some information on Bangladesh’s incumbent prime minister’s son by bribing an FBI agent.’ ‘The case files say there is $300 million, which is equal to Tk 25 billion, in an account of the prime minister’s son. ‘From where did this money come? What is the source of this money?’ she asked”.
Quoting Khaleda Zia as saying the report further says, “The people think this money belongs to them. Innumerable assets have been raised abroad by laundering money earned through corruption and loot. The people want to know how much more money they have. This money should be brought back.”
However, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s only son and her Information and Communication Technology (ICT) adviser, denied the allegation. Even, he termed Khaleda as a liar. BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi replied joy as saying that the BNP chairperson had talked about Taka 2,500 crore money laundering involving Joy as she had information. Khaleda Zia did not say anything about Joy without any evidence. The headline of the English daily “The News Today” on 4th May 2016 was “Allegation of laundering Tk 2,500 cr by Joy” and the sub-head of the news was “Khaleda has info: BNP”.
Thus we see mud-slugging against each other by the two topmost political parties. Even the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was also involved in political rivalry inviting Khaleda to accept Joy’s challenge. Thus we saw a sophisticated blame-game for some days. The issue was not unearthed. Might be the issue will be raised again in the wake of shifting power.
One the other hand, former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia’s son and BNP’s (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) senior vice-chairman Tarique Rahman was already awarded punishment by the higher court in money laundering case. The headline of a report published in “The Daily Star” on 22nd July 2016 was “Tarique convicted, jailed for 7 years”. The report says, “BNP Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and fined Tk 20 crore by the High Court yesterday in a money laundering case which may have an enormous impact on his political career.” If BNP was in power, Tarique was in country, how he faced the case and what was the verdict – is a matter of hypothesis.
In this country we have also have the opportunity to enjoy different verdict of the same case. For example, in 18th June 2015 the High Court ordered to continue Niko Corruption case against BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was discharged from the same case. Khaleda’s counsel Mahbub Uddin Khokon later criticized that in the same allegation the case against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was quashed out but in the regard of Khaleda Zia the case was ordered to continue. The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) did not appeal against High Court order of quashing out the case against Sheikh Hasina. The intention of the ACC is very clear through this incident. The Bangla daily “The Prothom Alo” quotes Mahbub Uddin Khokon as saying these on a report published on 19 June 2015. The headline of the report was (Niko Case against Khaleda Zia continues).”
Many experts opined on developing law and order situation and ensuring proper role of the law enforcers for curbing money laundering. But what is the actual scenario of the current law enforcers? I just want to draw the attention to an editorial published in the English daily “The New Age” dated 19 January 2016. The headline of the write up was “Alarming rise in police crime”. It says, “The apparent rise of crimes involving police personnel, who are supposed to be protectors, in recent times across the country, is indeed a matter of grave concern. According to a New Age report on Monday (18th January 2016) quoting police headquarters statistics, at least 76 members of the force, which included constables and sub-inspectors, were terminated for their involvement in crimes in 2015, while 9,958 more were punished for negligence and indiscipline. Moreover, some police personnel were arrested on charges of extortion, drug smuggling, rape and human trafficking etc over the year”.
Moreover, killing in the guise of crossfire, forced disappearance and harassing political opposition under the green signal of the government are very common in the regard of Bangladeshi law enforcers including police, RAB (Rapid Action Batellion) and DB (Detective Branch). There are many incidents that police or RAB detained someone from his home and later he was found dead in crossfire and branded as militant.
Most of the billionaires of Bangladesh who are also the owners of the mainstream media outlets are always out of touch. There are some vital questions need to be answered — Aren’t those wealthy and powerful persons piling up illicit and laundering money? Are they being charged or is there any possibility of being charged?
Proper and impartial trial is a must for curbing corruption and thus money laundering. Moral and religious bindings of the people must be grown to tackle this malpractice. A few verses of Surah at Takathur of the Holy Quran can be matched here: “Piling of more wealth has kept you heedless. Till you saw your graves. Yes, soon you will come to know. Again, yes, soon you will come to know. Yes, it you would have knows with knowledge of certainty: you would not have loved wealth. Undoubtedly, you shall necessarily, see Hell. Then again, undoubtedly you shall necessarily see it with the eye of certainty. Then, undoubtedly, you shall surely be asked about the favors.”
Finally, I like to draw the attention to a common scenario in all sectors including business, administration, law enforcing agencies, public representation and the like that everywhere there are some honest and pious persons who never earn illicit money. They fear the day of resurrection and consider themselves as accountable to Allah for their all activities. Whatever post they hold and opportunities they avail to earn illegally, they always stay on honesty and never think of siphoning out money. On the other hand, dishonest law enforcers, law makers, diplomats, businessmen, bureaucrats, ministers and the like pile up illicit money and take the path of money laundering. Unfortunately, those corrupted people most often identify themselves as pro-liberation force and progressive members.  So teaching of moral values and religious rules is a must to curb money laundering.

Writer: Journalist

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