Money laundering case and the investigating agency's passive role

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Although money laundering has turned into one of the major headaches of Bangladesh’s economy in recent years, no visible political commitment to prevent this is noticed.

While the first ever money laundering prevention act in the country was enacted back in 2002, the number of cases filed under this act is low. And there’s almost no progress in investigation and trial of the cases.

The pitiful picture of investigations and trials of crimes linked to money laundering, including siphoning off money abroad that appeared in a recent three-installment series report of Prothom Alo, is frustrating and unacceptable.

Despite a total of 752 cases being filed under the money laundering act since its enactment till September 2022, only 56 of these have been settled, sentencing 44 persons.

The lengthy and flimsy investigation process of the money laundering cases has turned into the principal obstacle to these cases being resolved.

Though it is said in the existing law that investigating the cases must be completed within six months, the final report isn’t submitted before the court even after years.

While the largest sum of money is laundered behind the cover of import export trade, this sort of cases progress the least.

The major weakness of investigation in this case is that necessary papers from related countries cannot be presented before the court in favour of the allegation of money being laundered abroad. The lack of agreements with concerned countries regarding this creates this problem.

Money made through 27 types of crimes including currency smuggling falls under money laundering in the existing law. ACC, CID, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate along with Narcotics Control Bureau are responsible for probing these crimes directly.

Investigative agencies can file cases if the information of suspicious transactions provided by Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) is found to be true in the initial investigation.

It is undeniable that because of the range of offences falling under the Money Laundering Act, many agencies have to be involved in investigations.

But due to lack of coordination among investigating agencies, advanced technology, surveillance devices and trained manpower, it’s taking forever to finish investigating each case.

Majority of the accused in money laundering cases are businessmen, bankers and government officials. There have been cases against politicians and top officials of financial institutions. It clearly appears that many businessmen, bankers and individuals connected to state power are engaging in crimes like money laundering.

Money laundering opportunities are being created for the lack of effective action by regulatory agencies in the financial sector. And, the lack of political good will is giving rise to money laundering crimes in the country.

While preventing drugs, goods and human trafficking is a major objective of money laundering cases, the number cases related to this is the lowest.

As transactions in most cases are done using 'hundi', it’s not possible to file cases under the money laundering act for the lack of witness and evidence, when it comes to this sort of crimes. There’s a shortage of trained manpower in the investigative agencies also.

There’s no alternative of preventing money laundering to free the country of the economic crisis. And, it’s not possible to take any effective action in this case if the investigative agencies assume a passive role.

The National Strategy for Preventing Money Laundering formed in 2021 have made recommendations like establishing a central database, training members of the investigative agencies at home and abroad, forming an impartial prosecution service and enhancing coordination between investigative officers and prosecutors.

We believe the situation will improve a lot if the recommendations are implemented. But how much is it possible to take strong measures to prevent money laundering without political will and commitment?