Conflicting objectives

Dhaka,  Sun,  24 September 2017
Published : 14 May 2017, 21:20:56

Conflicting objectives

Mahmudur Rahman
Broadly speaking, money laundering is about transfer of money illegally, whether it be the source or the destination. When it comes to unethical business practice the terminology changes to capital flight and over-invoicing - if one is to be polite and simple siphoning off, if the tendency is towards the rude. Depending on such terminology, state agencies are assigned to track, follow-up and haul offenders up. Theoretically speaking, that is. Reality is far removed.

For instance, a proposal being mulled by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wants to send a team of sleuths to Malaysia to investigate the 250-odd individuals that have made the country their second home. The pivotal question is how did they transfer sums equivalent to, at a minimum of RM 100,000 (around Tk 2.2 million) to Malaysia. The central bank doesn't allow for such transfers and only those holding foreign accounts should ideally be able to. The very concept that Bangladesh Bank guidelines could have been violated makes it more of a ministry of finance (MoF) issue. At best, if it is a question of tax-evasion, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) comes in.

Charity begins at home; so do such caprices. Most of these transactions are either directly conducted through 'hundi' or transferred liability i.e paying someone locally and getting the funds in forex in the other country. A third option is depositing the money into an account, as advised by the facilitating local company. That is where the trail runs cold. Until now, the Malaysian government has not revealed information about the second-home seekers. But they are willing to investigate, based on specific passport details.

It's a double whammy. Diplomatically it becomes a disaster when one government doesn't question the modality of money influx while another does. Ideally both should, in the interest of good governance. Unfortunately, the 'good governance' concept is descending from purpose to a cliché and now to almost being a bad word. The Swiss Bank Accounts, the Panama Papers and now the revelation of billions of dollars being illegally repatriated by individuals suggest major holes in governance. The knee-jerk reaction of the government has been to point at the informal repatriation channels. That was what was sought to be investigated by teams from the Bangladesh Bank as it tried to figure out why remittances were taking a nose-dive. Either they haven't found out or are unwilling to share it publicly, but the reports of these teams remain buried somewhere. That's hardly surprising given that the report of the probe committee looking into the reserve heist, hasn't been made public either by intention or design nearly a year and a three months on.

If immigration papers granted by the Embassies to Bangladeshi individuals are matched against their bank accounts, it should throw light in how and where money's are being transferred. Similarly, all the lovely people bathing in the blissful warmth of defaulting on loans and involved in bank scams have had to have somewhere to either invest or save the money. These cannot have disappeared. Yet, save for hearing of rescheduling debt , writing off loans and failure to pay court mandated amounts, these lovely people get bail and continue travelling in their fancy cars, living their fancy lives. And emboldened by such positive outcomes of breaking the law,   others are beginning to be involved in similar but smaller misdemeanours.

Essentially, the ACC has made positive grounds in hauling up individuals that were considered untouchable. With their hands dirtied enough, the canvas needs to widen to include such misdemeanours as an unusual alternative to the legal process that is time-consuming.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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