Every year an estimated USD 481 million or about Tk 51.47 billion is smuggled out of Bangladesh through the drug trade, making it the fifth highest country worldwide in terms of siphoning money from drug profits. Among Asian countries, Bangladesh takes the lead in money laundering through drug trading.

However, the amount of money siphoned out was projected through estimation. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published this information in a report on illicit financial flows on their website. In this report, the UN organisation underscored the estimation based accounts of illegal money outflow through drug business in nine countries of the world including Bangladesh. The other countries are Afghanistan, Colombia, Ecuador, Maldives, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal and Peru.

According to the UNCTAD report, Mexico ranks first in the world in terms of siphoning drug money. This is followed by Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bangladesh respectively. UNCTAD estimated the illicit outflow of drug money with the assistance of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and on the basis of data provided by the countries concerned.

Among the five Asian countries on the list, Bangladesh is followed by Maldives and Nepal. Afghanistan and Myanmar are in fourth and fifth place. UNCTAD for the first time has published such data on money laundering through drugs by analysing five years of data from 2017 to 2021.

According to the sources of the Department of Narcotics Control, maximum 20 per cent of the drugs smuggled through the country are recovered. It constitutes, 80 per cent of the drugs coming into the country are not recovered. As a result, UNODC calculated the estimated value of the drugs by multiplying the market value  of recovered drugs by five times. Therefore, UNCTAD has made a hypothetical calculation of drug-related money laundering by collecting data from UNODC.

Department of Narcotics Control has reported a significant escalation in spread of drugs in the country recently. Last year 45.8 million yaba pills were recovered in the country while113 kg methamphetamine, the key ingredient of yaba, or ice was recovered. Besides, 338 kg of heroin was recovered in the country. In 2021, law enforcers recovered 53 million yaba, 36 ice and 441 kg heroin.

Narcotics control department officials say that drugs are now being smuggled into the country mainly through the Myanmar border. Since the early 1980s, a wide range of drugs has been entering the country. At that time, phensedyl used to come through the India border. Later heroin replaced phensedyl. Now yaba has spread widely in the country. A more powerful drug called ice has become prevalent in the country recently. Law enforcers also recovered drugs like cocaine at various times. Last Friday night, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate arrested an Indian citizen with 1.8 kg of cocaine from Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. He came to Dhaka from Morocco.

Money being laundered

According to UNCTAD report, yaba, heroin and various types of drugs are prevalent in Bangladesh. The money earned through the drug is being smuggled out of Bangladesh. Among the five countries in Asia, maximum drug money outflows from Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal. On the other hand, the drug dealers of Afghanistan and Myanmar are making a huge amount of money by selling drugs in different countries.

Prothom Alo spoke to Narcotics Control Department Deputy Director Manjurul Islam regarding this report. He mentioned that the department shares information with UNODC regarding the quantity of drugs seized within the country. Additionally, data concerning the average market value of the confiscated drugs is also provided to the agency.

According to his statement, UNODC itself conducts assessments to determine the value, based on estimations. They take into account both the quantity of drugs seized and make estimations regarding the overall trade and trafficking. Using these factors, UNODC calculates the market value of drugs entering the country. As Bangladesh does not produce drugs domestically, all the money spent on drug smuggling ultimately flows out of the country.