In the cases examined by Prothom Alo, there are 119 cases regarding siphoning off money overseas or illegal monetary transactions. Of these, 77 are trade-based money laundering. Funds are siphoned out of the country by over-invoicing in the case of imports and under-invoicing in the case of exports. Investigations have been completed in only four of these cases. Investigations into the remaining 73 have been continuing for the past two to seven years.
In August 2019, ACC filed five cases and the customs intelligence and Investigation Directorate three cases against the chairman of Rupali Composite, MA Kader, and 10 officers of Sonali Bank, on charges of laundering Tk 15 billion (Tk 1500 crore). The customs intelligence says that such cases involve a complicated process and hence the delay.
Head of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate’s intelligence unit, Shamsul Arefin Khan, says that the investigations cannot be completed in time due to ‘lack of workforce’. He recently told Prothom Alo, “We do not get officials round-the-clock to investigate money laundering cases. An official starts investigating a case but cannot complete it. When a new person takes over, he has to start all over again.”
The national strategy paper on preventing trade-related money laundering, published in 2021, says that effective measures must be taken so that importers and exporters cannot manipulate the prices of items in the Letters of Credit (LC), showing these as higher or lower than the market price. After an LC is opened, the concerned commercial bank will check the price of the product. At the same time, each and every bank will build up data banks containing all sorts of details concerning import items. The strategy paper carried the findings of a study carried out by the Washington-based non-profit research organization, Global Financial Integrity (GFI) on money laundering of developing countries from 2006 to 2015. This indicated that 87 per cent of the money laundering from developing countries is done by over-invoicing and under-invoicing for imports and exports.
ACC report of 17 February 2022 also stated that around 10 per cent of the funds siphoned out of the country are sent out under the shield of trade and business or imports and exports.
Executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), Iftekharuzzaman, told Prothom Alo, “There is a lack of competence in our country that is required to investigate money laundering cases. There is no coordination among the investigating agencies. Those involved in trade-based “Money laundering are all big fish. They have political connections. In our parliament, 62 per cent of the members are businesspersons. These agencies do not have the capacity to nab the influential persons involved in money laundering.”
Some 22 business companies are named in the 119 cases regarding trade-based money laundering. And yet the office of the chief controller of imports and exports has no information concerning these cases. Head of the organization, Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, told Prothom Alo, the law enforcement agencies do not give them any list in this connection.