Political commitment crucial to stop money laundering

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

A heated debate about siphoning money abroad has been going on for quite a few years. The government voices a strong stand about showing zero tolerance against money laundering.

But that stand is limited within the electoral manifesto of the party or the speeches of their party leaders on stage. No effective or sustainable steps are noticed to be taken for stopping money laundering.

The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) showed in their report of 2022-23 fiscal that dubious transactions in the financial sector have seen an overall increase which is nearly 65 per cent higher than the previous year.

According to the BFIU report, the number of reports on suspicious transactions sent to them in the last fiscal year, 2022-23 has increased to 520, as against 341 in the previous financial year, 2021-22.

Different institutions including banks, financial institutions, insurance and brokerage had sent a total of 14,106 suspicious transaction reports to BFIU in the last fiscal year whereas the number was 8,571 in 2021-22 fiscal year.

BFIU works as the coordinating unit of different agencies of the country working to prevent money laundering. Transactions deemed as suspicious transaction by bank officials are sent to BFIU as ‘suspicious transaction report’.

Any large transaction in a low-profile account, any customer withdrawing a large sum of money at once, large loans in the name of a smalltime businessman, transferring money to an unknown account and transaction with an unrelated account, are usually considered as dubious transactions by the banks.

In response to journalists’ question about what BFIU is doing to stop laundering, the head of BFIU Md Masud Biswas said that a strong political will is required to bring the laundered money back.

Coming to power the Awami League government had brought back some of the money laundered during the BNP regime and had taken credit for it. It had been commended as well.

Yet, no effective steps were noticed to be taken for stopping or bringing back the hundreds of billions of taka laundered during the regime of this government in the past 15 years.

Money is usually siphoned off with objectives such as covering up financial as well as all kinds of criminal activities, evading taxes, violating foreign exchange regulation act and investment policy, safe investment in other countries and gaining citizenship there for a high standard of living.

It is the duty of the state to stop money laundering and take stern action against the launderers. Usually it’s the money acquired through corruption and irregularities that is laundered abroad. Besides, many entrepreneurs siphon off money abroad for there isn’t an investment-friendly environment in the country.

About a couple of years ago, an opportunity to bring back laundered money in exchange of a certain amount of fine was proposed in the budget. Not even a single penny was brought back.

Another figure shows that the majority of the money siphoned off from the country is laundered by resorting to over-invoicing and under-invoicing in import and export trade.  

The leash has to be tightened on corruption if money has to be prevented from being laundered abroad.  Hundred per cent transparency and accountability has to be ensured in case of any financial transaction.

Former chief economist of the central bank, Mustafa K Mujeri emphasised on genuine political commitment from the top of the government to stop the laundering. The situation can worsen even further if anyone’s cut any slacks or shown biasness in this case.

When it comes to laundering, there’s a notion among the public that even if the government catches the small fish, the big fish are remaining beyond the reach. If the government really wishes to stop laundering, the big fishes must be brought to justice.

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