This news of the 55 per cent jump in Bangladeshi deposits in Swiss banks comes at a time when the government has taken initiative to bring back the laundered money for a trifling tax payment. In the 2022-23 financial year's proposed budget announced on 9 June, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal gave scope for laundered money to be brought back to the country at a nominal tax of 7 per cent. This has given rise to a volley of criticism within the country.
The finance minister also asked that no move be made to prevent this money to be brought back into the country
Businesspersons, economists and representatives of the civil society -- everyone has criticised this move by the government. However, at the pre-budget press briefing on 10 June, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said that, "Money has been siphoned out of Bangladesh to many different countries. That is why steps have been taken to bring this money back." The finance minister also asked that no move be made to prevent this money to be brought back into the country. At the same press briefing, the Bangladesh Bank governor Fazle Kabir claimed, "The money that has gone to various countries, including to Swiss banks, has not gone from Bangladesh."
In the meantime, the Swiss National Bank's report says that in a matter of one year, Bangladeshis' money in different Swiss banks has gone up by nearly Tk 30 billion (Tk 3000 crore). This is a record high for Bangladeshi funds deposited in Swiss banks over the past two decades. In 2000, the amount of money deposited by Bangladeshis in Swiss banks stood at only 50.9 billion Swiss francs (5 crore 19 lakh Swiss francs) of Tk 4.93 billion (Tk 493 crore) in local currency.
In 2021 this sum increased to 871.1 million (87 crore 11 lakh Swiss francs) or Tk 82.76 billion (Tk 8,276 crore). In 2014 the amount of money of Bangladeshis in Swiss banks for the first time exceeded 500 million Swiss francs (50 crore Swiss francs). In the seven years since then, the amount of deposits there increased in four years. In 2019 and 2020 consecutively, Bangladeshis' deposits in Swiss banks had fallen. But over the last one year this increased by 55 per cent.
Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit of BFIU is the institution responsible to collect information on money being siphoned out of Bangladesh overseas. The head of this unit at present is Dr Masud Biswas. He did not receive a call made to him over mobile phone to get his comment on the issue. The BFIU head in 2021 had been Abu Hena Mohd Razi Hasan. When asked about the matter last night, he told Prothom Alo, it cannot be said for sure that the money mentioned in the Swiss central bank's report had gone from Bangladesh. Bangladeshis live in many different countries and they can have money in those banks. So it would not be right to conclude that all of this is laundered money. However, BFIU and various agencies of the government are working to prevent money laundering.
In the Swiss National Bank report, they money deposited by individuals and companies from various countries including Bangladesh, are described as 'liabilities' to be returned to the client when asked.
Indian deposits in Swiss banks increased too in 2021. Towards the end of 2021, deposits by Indians in Swiss banks stood at nearly 3.83 billion Swiss francs (383 crore Swiss francs) or around Tk 363.75 billion (Tk 36,375 crore) in Bangladeshi currency. In 2020 the deposits of Indians in those banks stood at 2.55 billion Swiss francs (255 crore Swiss francs) or Tk 242.5 billion (Tk 24,250 crore) in Bangladeshi currency.
According to experts, the deposits mentioned in the Swiss National Bank's reports are not all necessarily 'black money'. Bangladeshis also keep their money legally in the various banks there. Bangladeshis living in various countries around the world keep their money in various countries including Switzerland. So even though living abroad, when their deposit money as Bangladeshis, that is considered as Bangladeshis' money. However, money from various countries is also illegally transferred to Switzerland.
Meanwhile, though the amount of Bangladeshis' deposits in Swiss banks has been increasing over the past two decades, the government has taken no visible initiative to collect details of the owners of this wealth or to bring the wealth back to the country. This time in the budget, though, a move has been made to bring back laundered money by offering tax discounts.
When asked about this issue, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya told Prothom Alo, from past experience, facts and figures, we have seen that capital flight from the country increases just before the elections. Earlier, business capital was siphoned off in the guise of trade.
He said, now financial capital is being siphoned off. The corrupt ring involved in this is now internationalised. They have also become powerful in government policymaking. That is why the budget proposal has been made to bring this money back to the country for an inconsequential payment of tax. Even our policies have been snatched by the clique of internationalised corruption.