Lawmakers call for reining in money laundering

Nowadays, nobody denies the incidents of money to foreign countries rather debate continues on who is laundering the money more.

The foreign minister on 18 November last year told a Meet the Reporters that government officials launder money more than politicians. The six months after the foreign minister’s remarks, now lawmakers during the current session of parliament strongly demanded money laundering must stop.

On Sunday, even a ruling party lawmaker in parliament demanded for stern action to prevent money laundering. On Monday, lawmakers from the opposition said the government isn’t finding out any way to prevent siphoning money off the country and couldn’t also bring back the laundered money. People are laundering money though under invoicing and over invoicing as well as hundi.

Four opposition lawmakers made the disclosure during the discussion on 2020-21 supplementary budget in parliament. On the other hand, finance minister AH Mustafa Kamal sought information on money laundering from the opposition lawmakers. Although foreign minister AK Abdul Momen on 18 November told the newspersons they have secretly collected information on Bangladeshis living in Toronto, Canada. At that time, he said, “I thought that the number of politicians would be higher. I got surprised though the information is not comprehensive. Considering the number, many government officials have houses and their children live there.”

Taking the floor during the discussion on 2020-21 supplementary budget, Jatiya Party Lawmaker Kazi Firoz Rashid said the finance ministry’s leadership is right but his authority is weak. So, all blames shouldn’t be put on the finance ministry like the Bangladesh Bank hasn’t had its authority over the banking sector now. Proper authorities can’t exercise their power in financial institutions and insurance sector too.

Everything runs freely. Director of a bank takes money to another bank. Billions of taka is being shipped off. Money is also being sent through hundi, he added.

Jatiya Party lawmaker Kazi Firoz Rashid also placed a proposal on the activities of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to prevent money laundering. He said there is no need for the ACC head office in Bangladesh. Let’s set it up in Canada plus opening a branch office in Malaysia. Besides, if more branches open in Australia, Dubai and the USA, then the real scenario of money laundering will be understood, he argued.

The lawmaker also talked about Proshanto Kumar Halder, known as PK Haldar, who siphoned billions of taka off the country by acquiring ownership of many banks and financial institutions. Firoz Rashid said, “PK Haldar took away such a huge amount of money. Yet, it has been said that he escaped arrest just for nine minutes. Why didn’t the authorities concerned detain him nine hours ago?"

The court even sought a list of the persons who have built houses abroad spending the laundering money, but the ACC couldn’t submit it, Firoz Rashid said.

He said there is a lack of monitoring despite Bangladesh Bank has so many branches. If audit was carried out in time, this incident wouldn’t happen, such a huge amount of money wouldn’t be laundered and such a large amount of bad loans wouldn’t be disbursed too.

Another Jatiya Party lawmaker Rowshan Ara Mannan said many project directors build and buy houses by name or without name at home and abroad. Recruitment and tender business are being done through project and this must be controlled.

BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said, “I was good at mathematics at school. Teachers admired me. But, I couldn’t do the equations of the budget. Where will the money come from? We are going after the growth. If the coronavirus isn’t controlled, earning from garment sector and remittance will collapse drastically.”

BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said people’s money remains deposited at banks, but a section of people is taking away this money and they know they won’t have to return it. More than Tk 1 trillion (1 lakh corer) are siphoned off annually due to over invoicing and under invoicing.

In February this year, the lawmaker of Lakshmipur-2 constituency, Shahid Islam, was stripped of his membership in parliament on ground of moral turpitude after a Kuwait court sentenced him to four years' jail in a case related to human trafficking money laundering in January this year. Kuwait police arrested Shahid Islam in June last year.

Tk 640 billion siphoned off annually

According to a report released by the Washington-based research organisation Global Financial Integrity (GFI) in March last year Bangladesh sees capital flight of $7.53 billion equal to Tk 640 billion (64,000 crore) on an average per year through international trade.

According to the GFI report, flight of funds increased by trade misinvoicing from Bangladesh since 2008. The highest amount, $11.51billion flew from the country in 2015 while $5.28 billion, $8.9 billion, $7.09 billion, $8 billion, $7.12 billion and $8.82 billion were siphoned off the country in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Bangladesh sees capital flight of $5.9 billion or about Tk 500 billion (50,000 crore) through international trade in 2019, according to the GFI.

Bangladesh Bank in a letter sent to the finance ministry’s Financial Institutions Division said money is being laundered abroad under the shadow of import as well as huge amount of foreign countries earned through export aren’t coming to the country. Though cases are filed under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act 1947, but the matter isn’t being resolved.

Debate on black money

Favouring the opportunity to whiten money, lawmaker Firoz Rashid said the finance minister has taken the right stance. Those who are sending this money from different countries surely know that no disclosure of this money will be required. So the finance minister shouldn’t be misled by the talk shows. Let the opportunity to whiten money exists.

Citing the mismanagement in the country’s financial sector, BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said corruption is responsible for it. The prime minister has announced a zero tolerance against corruption. Yet the finance minister talks about the opportunity to whiten the undisclosed money. So, it’s contradictory. Then again, the finance minister said black money and undisclosed money are not same and it’s right as per policy.

Mentioning a bank has been handed over to a family by amending the Bank Company Act, another BNP lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said looting of public fund is rampant. A list of loan defaulters was placed in parliament and what sort of action was taken against them? she asked.

Rumeen Farhana said no accurate figure of the banking sector’s bad loans is available. When the government said bad loan stood at Tk 1.1 trillion (1.10 lakh crore), at that time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated it Tk 2.5 trillion (2.5 lakh crore). Now the government said bad loan stands at Tk 880 billion (88,000 crore), she added.

Bank, capital markets in worst condition

BNP lawmaker Harunur Rashid said the capital markets have collapsed completely.

Regarding this, Rumeen Farhana said when Awami League comes to power the capital markets collapse and it happened in 1996 and 2010.

Rumeen added former finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said stock market is in fact a ‘speculative market’. Many a time he (Muhith) spoke frankly. He also said clearance for new banks was given on political consideration.

Jatiya Party lawmaker Rowshan Ara Mannan said banking sector, financial institutions and capital markets have become the oppressed orphans. There is no body to look after them. Looting and corruption is rampant but no one is getting punishment, she added.