Why delay probing money launderers?
Our financial investigators seem to have a habit of sitting back and waiting for information to fall into their laps, as their inaction in various corruption cases will suggest. But to fail to act even when valuable information is available is callous at best, and collusive at worst. This is what happened after a Washington-based organisation in May last year reported the purchase of Dubai real estate by 459 Bangladeshi nationals, presumably with laundered money. But even after about 10 months have passed, and despite a High Court order issued on January 15 to investigate the matter, relevant agencies have failed to take action. This is quite disturbing.
As per a report by this daily, the court had ordered the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), National Board of Revenue (NBR), and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to initiate the investigation and share their findings within one month. But they have done neither, apparently because they haven't received a written copy of the order. You cannot help but wonder: Why would they delay action on such a technicality, particularly when the message was unmistakeable? Why would they need to be told to do what they should be doing anyway?
There are many instances where the investigating agencies launched probes based on media reports, without requiring a court order. For example, in 2020 and 2021, the ACC went through 2,167 media reports as its primary source of information and picked some cases for investigation. The other agencies have done the same from time to time. Their inaction in this case thus raises suspicion. Is it lack of respect to the court? Is it lack of coordination for which our state institutions are so notorious? Or is there a higher motive given how powerful money launderers are?
Investigation, it should be noted, is but the first step in the direction of justice. Ideally, it would be followed by filing of cases, then further investigations leading to charge sheets, then a lengthy trial process given the capacity of our judiciary, and finally a conviction, if we're being really optimistic. But if the first step takes so long to initiate, what will happen in the subsequent stages? After all, as a November 2022 assessment shows, some 976 money laundering cases have been registered in the country since 2003, of which only 203 have been disposed of. In total, 856 cases filed on charges of laundering money have been pending with various trial courts for years. It almost seems like the whole system is designed to protect money launderers. As a result, billions of taka have already left the country illegally.
We have often expressed our concerns about the state of agencies dealing with money laundering and other financial crimes. The ACC, in particular, remains ill-equipped in this regard. We have also seen repeated foot-dragging under various pretexts. We think the government owes it to its own economic ambitions to stop this disastrous trend, and punish the corrupt and scammers, however well-connected they may be. For now, it must investigate the allegation of illegal real estate purchase in Dubai.