Govt must bring back money stashed abroad

Published: 00:00, Jun 30,2019


AN INCREASE in deposits of Bangladeshis in Swiss banks by 28.34 per cent to 617.72 million Swiss francs, or roughly Tk 53.41 billion, year-on-year in 2018, as the latest annual report Banks in Switzerland 2018 released on Thursday says, is worrying. This is so because such illicit financial flows, which generally result from corruption, do result in further corruption, discouraging growth and harming the main economic sectors. A situation like this also suggests political uncertainty, lack of investment climate, a poor state of governance and the absence of political will and strategic efficiency to curb capital flight. Deposits of Bangladeshis in Swiss banks declined by 27 per cent to 481.32 million Swiss francs, or Tk 40.64 billion, year-on-year in 2017 after they had increased by 19.21 per cent to 661.96 million Swiss francs, or Tk 55.75 billion, year-on-year in 2016. While experts say that corrupt individuals having close ties with the government may have laundered the amount for deposit in banks in Switzerland to head further risks, they put the increase in deposit rate down to uncertainties that went with the 2018 general elections when people having illegally made huge amounts of money stashed them away unlawfully to sidestep any measures against corruption.

But what makes it further worrying is that, as experts say, deposits of Bangladeshis in Swiss banks constitute a small portion of the amount laundered as Swiss banks are neither the only place nor the biggest place to stash money away. People keep illegal money in other places, too.  Besides, the illicit capital outflow of Bangladesh, as the reports of the Washington-based Global Financial Integrity released in May 2017 and January 2019 say, has reached $81.74 billion, laundered in 11 years from 2005 to 2015. Estimates based on trade statistics compiled by the International Monetary Fund shows that 17.5 per cent of Bangladesh’s total trade worth $33.7 billion with ‘advanced’, or western, economies, was laundered only in 2015 and estimates of the UN’s International Trade Statistics, or Comptrade, show that 7.2 per cent of the trade value was drained out through over-invoicing in imports and under-invoicing in exports that deprived the government of a huge amount of revenue. All this paints a bleak picture of the national economy of Bangladesh. Experts also blame the absence of an investment climate and the poor state of the banking sector to be reasons for the capital flight. The situation also points to a lack of the required political will and strategic efficiency of the government to curb illicit financial flow understandably because the people involved in the capital flight enjoy political clout.

There are, as experts believe, enough safeguards against illicit financial flows but they mostly do not work when influential quarters, politically or financially, are involved in the process. In a situation like this, the government must shrug off its partisan bias, adequately alert its agencies to stopping capital fight, put in efforts to identify the launderers and bring back the money stashed illegally in other countries in the best national interest, if possible, by applying local laws of Swiss authorities in the case at hand, for the confiscation of the amount.

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