According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), around $5.9 billion was siphoned out of Bangladesh in 2015 and $9.11 billion was siphoned out in 2014. The number that GFI is referring is mostly the number that has been siphoned out through trade mis-invoicing. In Bangladesh, people who are involved in export and import business are doing this.
But this is not the only way to launder money. There are four other ways – traditional hundi for immigration or second home, salary transaction of foreign workers, expatriate workers and student expenses. Among these, mis-invoicing and traditional hundi are the most prominent methods used for money laundering.
Begum Para in Toronto, Canada or second home projects in Malaysia and Singapore are quite popular, and taking place through traditional hundi. In Malaysia, Bangladesh is the second largest customer of this project. After spending a certain amount of money, people get a passport, visa and permission to investment there. And in this procedure, no official document is needed.
Certainly, this is not something legal, because this huge amount of money cannot be siphoned out without the permission of Bangladesh Bank (BB). One cannot send more than $12,000 in a year, according to rules. But this is happening very frequently and people are successfully doing business and investing their money in places like Begum Para, Canada, and Malaysia. How does BB not notice it?
This has gone unnoticed because of the lack of political will. Money laundering is happening in every country and there are also international laws against this. So, it is quite possible to find and bring those guilty people under international law.
Bangladesh is a member of United Nations Convention against Corruption. Then, how difficult is it to find the list of money launderers? Why does the government have to ask for it from others? Do we have the access? Or do they have the access?
Obviously, them. We just need to ask for it from the relevant countries.
It is not like we have never brought someone under the law in Bangladesh. Look back to the year of 2007-08; did the caretaker government not make that happen?
If it was possible earlier, then it is possible again. What is stopping them from proceeding? According to the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2002, a money launderer will face a punishment of 12 years' imprisonment; also the siphoned out money will be seized and exactly twice the siphoned out amount will be fined. Sadly, we do not see the implementation of this law now.
Do we remember the incident of Lakshmipur-2 independent MP Mohammad Shahid Islam alias Kazi Papul? In the money laundering case, he could deceive our government, but not the government of Kuwait. He is in a Kuwaiti jail now.
Also, a few people are saying that we need offices of Anti-Corruption Commission in Canada, Malaysia or Singapore to observe the activities closely. I do not agree with this. Rather, it will increase corruption in a different way, I believe. Government needs to take proper action using the existing law.
In the money launderers list, government officials can be found as well. They are visiting these places for the sake of treatment and education, and later settling down. But in places like Begum Para, there are other people too who are earning their livelihood honestly and asking the Canadian government to ban the money launderers in Toronto. I do not find their demand illogical because no one who does illegal work and bring disrepute to our country should be appreciated.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman is Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.
The Business Standard,
June 08, 2021