In these circumstances, Switzerland’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Nathalie Chuard, said in no uncertain terms, there are allegations that most of the money deposited by Bangladeshis in the various Swiss banks has been earned through illicit means. The important bit of information that she revealed was that till now the Bangladesh government has not approached the Swiss banks or the concerned authorities through any official process, for information in this regard. The reaction to the Swiss ambassador’s words was as expected. The foreign minister said that the Swiss ambassador had not told the truth. Meanwhile, the High Court has asked the state and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) whether the government had actually asked the Swiss authorities for information regarding the funds of the Bangladeshis. On Sunday the state and ACC responded. They told the court that the Swiss ambassador’s statement had not been correct. Information on 67 persons had been sought through the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU). Information on one person among them has been availed.

Has this response by the state and ACC to the court query cleared the confusion? Does that mean that the Swiss ambassador’s statement was untrue? Let’s turn to what the court had to say to the state and ACC’s lawyers after their statement. The court said, “The ambassador’s statement had created confusion. Your (the state and ACC) statement will clear the confusion. You wanted information about the fund depositors, they are not providing it. Or they put forward certain conditions in providing the information. You have said you have asked for the information and have taken steps. You have made this clear. The people will assess whether you are telling the truth or not.”

Since the High Court has left the matter of assessing the “truth” upon us, the people, we have the right to speak about this then. Our confusion has not been cleared by the statements of the state and ACC. In fact, more questions have arisen. The reply given by the state and ACC about asking for information on 67 persons, is nothing new. Many of us will recall a seminar held in June on '20 years of BFIU in the prevention of money laundering and terrorism funding in Bangladesh’. The key note paper had been presented by the BFIU additional director Md Kamal Hossain. He had said, BFIU has received information at various times from the Swiss National Bank about money laundering by 67 individuals and companies of Bangladesh.

Rather than approaching the Swiss authorities about information on a select few, why does the Bangladesh government not ask for information on the transactions of all Bangladeshi nationals? Why just of 67?

The inquiry about the 67 persons or organisations is nothing new, but what we learnt new from the state and ACC sources, is that information on only one person has been availed. This is contradictory to the statement made by the BFIU additional director. Does that mean information concerning the rest was not provided, or that the Swiss authorities do not have any information about them worth giving? The matter is unclear in the statements of the state and ACC lawyers.

The question that has naturally arisen in our minds, for all practical purposes, is who are these 67 entities? In our experience, ACC had investigated into some instances of corruption and has taken action against some corrupt persons, but there are no instances of them taking any measures against anyone in the ruling party or those of their camp. That is why further questions pop up in our mind. On what basis were the details of these 67 persons sought? Since credibility is invariably in question, it is difficult to believe that this has been done without any political bias and consideration. Has the government really asked at all about the actual suspects? Are the names of any ruling party persons or their close associates on the list of persons about whom the queries were made? And also, did Bangladesh follow the procedures referred to by the Swiss ambassador about applying for information on the deposits and transactions of Bangladeshi nationals with the Swiss banks?

It is no crime to keep funds in a Swiss bank or any other foreign bank. The important matter is whether the funds are legitimate and if these were sent through legitimate channels. Rather than approaching the Swiss authorities about information on a select few, why does the Bangladesh government not ask for information on the transactions of all Bangladeshi nationals? Why just of 67?

Transparency International Bangladesh’s executive director, Iftekharuzzaman, wrote in an article published in Prothom Alo on Sunday, that if Bangladesh joins in the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), it will automatically receive information on all transactions at home and abroad in the banking and financial sector. It will receive information on the transactions with all foreign banks, not just Swiss banks. This is an effective method to prevent tax evasion and capital flight. There are 120 countries in the world who have signed up in this process, including India and Pakistan from South Asia.

The question is, why is Bangladesh not joining up with CRS? That is why the doubts are not being cleared as to whether Bangladesh really wants to know who have kept funds in the Swiss and other overseas banks and if this is legitimate at all.

*AKM Zakaria is deputy editor at Prothom Alo.

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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