Money launderers untouched
The move to bring money launderers to book is not making any headway as the Anti-Corruption Commission and different government agencies have failed to submit information on the offenders, their deposits in overseas banks, and properties abroad before the High Court despite its orders to do so.
A High Court bench has been holding hearings on a suo motu rule and a writ petition in this regard for over a year but it could not pass any order for prosecuting money launderers who allegedly deposited huge sums of money in foreign banks or purchased properties abroad.
ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said the commission has limitations in tracing those who have bought properties abroad with laundered money.
He alleged that the commission sought information from the foreign and home ministries and the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) about the launderers, but they did not give it to them.
Names of Bangladeshi nationals and two corporations came up in Panama Papers in 2016 and in Paradise Papers the following year.
The issue of Bangladeshi money launderers came to the fore on November 18, 2020 when Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at an event revealed that government officials were buying luxurious homes in "Begum Para" in Toronto.
Three days after Momen's comment, the HC issued a suo motu (voluntary) rule and directed intelligence agencies to take appropriate measures to stop money laundering.
The HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Ahmed Sohel also ordered the ACC and government authorities concerned to submit details, including names and addresses of money launderers, to the court by December 17, 2020.
The same HC bench also heard a writ petition filed in February last year, seeking actions against Bangladeshis and companies whose names reportedly came up in the papers.
During the hearing on the petition, the HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Mohi Uddin Shamim on February 28 wanted to know the names, addresses, and current status of the Bangladeshis who deposited laundered money in overseas banks.
The court asked the authorities and the ACC to give details of such individuals and organisations to it by March 30 last year.
But little progress has been made since then.
On December 5 last year, the ACC submitted a "compliance report", containing only the names of 43 people reportedly published in the papers in 2016 and 2017 but gave no details.
Irked by the graft watchdog's inaction, the HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice AKM Zahirul Huq the next day blasted the ACC for its failure to provide the court with any finding of its own.
The HC bench also directed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and BFIU to submit separate reports to it by January 9 this year, explaining why they failed to provide information and documents on money launderers to the ACC.
The HC bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman is scheduled to hold hearing on the matter on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the BFIU yesterday submitted to the HC a report containing names of 69 Bangladeshis and entities disclosed in Panama Papers and Paradise Papers as money launderers.
According to the report, Panama Papers named 43 and Paradise Papers 26 people.
Contacted, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said his ministry is not responsible for finding who laundered money and purchased properties abroad.
"It is the Anti-Corruption Commission who is responsible for finding out money launderers and corrupt people and bring them to book," he told The Daily Star on January 14.
About his November 2020 statement, Momen said he came to know about it unofficially from a person.
"A person had unofficially told me that 22 to 24 homes have been bought by Bangladeshis in 'Begum Para' in Canada. Most of them are high-profile bankers and retired government officials. There are a few politicians among them. This information was unverified and unofficial. I had told this to the media without verifying it," the minister said.
He said it was very difficult to get details about the money launderers as foreign governments are reluctant to share information.
Supreme Court lawyer Abdul Qaium Khan, who jointly filed the writ petition, said the ACC did not conduct any enquiry into those Bangladeshis who deposited money in Swiss banks and purchased properties abroad with laundered money.
"If the ACC had given the list of names and addresses of those corrupt people, the High Court could have issued necessary directives to bring them to book," he said.
ACC lawyer Khurshid said the BFIU is not authorised to disclose information about individuals without permission from the countries concerned where the money was laundered to "under the relevant provision of the Egmont Treaty".
The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units is an international organisation that facilitates cooperation and intelligence sharing between national financial intelligence units (FIUs) to investigate and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
Qaium, however, said the Egmont Treaty was not a barrier.
Several money launderers were punished in India following its Supreme Court directives for taking legal action based on information in the Panama and Paradise papers, he added.
BIFU officials declined to make any comment in this regard.
Yesterday, the BFIU submitted its report to the HC through Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik.
Citing the report, the DAG told this newspaper that the BFIU found information about money transaction to Australia, Thailand and Malaysia by 13 Bangladeshis. An inquiry was going on in this regard.