Government ordered to submit details by December 17
Following a cabinet member’s remarks that public servants outnumbered politicians in siphoning off money abroad, the High Court has sought information on money launderers.
In a suo moto (voluntary) rule on Sunday, the court described money launderers as “enemies of the state” and asked whether appropriate measures were taken against them.
Secretaries to the home and foreign ministries, Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit, National Board of Revenue and the deputy commissioner of Dhaka district have been told to submit details of money launderers by December 17.
“Those who are involved in laundering money have no patriotism and they are enemies of the state and nation,” observed the bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Ahmed Sohel.
The court also gave the government four weeks to explain why its inaction to take action against money launderers would not be declared illegal.
It issued the rule following media reports on Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen’s remarks made recently.
Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik and ACC’s counsel Advocate Khurshid Alam attended the hearing.
“A huge amount of money is being siphoned off to Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and other countries and most of them are government officials. We need to know who these people are and how they are laundering money,” the court said.
Money launderers have betrayed the state and its citizens, it added.
‘Govt officials outnumbered politicians’
The money laundering issue came to the forefront once again after Foreign Minister Momen admitted that the government has evidence of money laundering in Canada by Bangladeshis.
Talking to reporters during an event in Dhaka last Wednesday, he said they have found some initial evidence after checks in Canada.
“I thought there would be more politicians. But most of them are government officials. There are some businessmen, especially apparel exporters, as well,” said the minister.
In an interview with a national daily the next day, Momen said that unofficial and unverified information showed that most houses in Toronto’s “Begum Para” were bought by government officials as opposed to the popular belief that it was mainly politicians.
“We were surprised. We had thought that politicians may have purchased these houses. But we have information that most of the houses there have been bought by government officials. Some are retired Bangladeshi government officials, while others are serving officials…
“This is interesting. Normally, we think government officials are not so financially solvent. So, how could they buy houses in Canada? We don't know how it is possible.” he told the newspaper.
Capital flight continues unabated
A Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report in March had said that Bangladesh lost $7.53 billion a year between 2008 and 2017 in capital flight, which mostly happened through trade misinvoicing.
According to the Swiss National Bank’s annual report released in June, deposits by Bangladeshi citizens in Swiss banks stood at 603.02 million Swiss francs.
Canada has long been a safe haven for dirty money from Bangladesh.
Toronto’s “Begum Para” comes up often when it comes to money laundering. Many Bangladeshis have bought homes there, spending millions which went from Bangladesh. Mainly, the wives and children of Bangladeshi millionaires live in that neighbourhood, hence the name Begum Para.
Former NRB Global Bank managing director Prashanta Kumar Halder alias PK Halder, who laundered in between Tk3,000-Tk10,000 crore abroad, is one good example of these money launderers.
Halder has misappropriated the sums from non-banking financial institutions and laundered those to Canada, Singapore and India. After his actions came to light, he managed to flee from Dhaka and is currently in Canada.
Meanwhile, the ACC has said that it will investigate the cases if the Foreign Ministry provides necessary info.
The houses owned by politicians, businesspersons and government officials at Begum Para are like a myth, said ACC Commissioner Dr M Mozammel Haque Khan.
“No one has solid statistics on these, but we have complaints. We are putting emphasis on such allegations,” he said at an event in Dhaka on Saturday.
Earlier this year, Bangladeshi expatriates held multiple campaigns in Toronto for building social awareness and several demonstrations demanding punishment of those involved in laundering money from Bangladesh to Canada.
They said Canada, where many money launderers are suspected to have taken shelter, should not be a safe haven for dirty money and urged the Bangladesh government to take steps against them.