The High Court has sought detailed information including the names and identities of the money launderers.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Bangladesh Bank governor, the national revenue board chairman and the Dhaka deputy commissioner have been asked to submit the information by 17 December.
The court also issued a ruling on Sunday, asking government offices concerned why their inaction to curb money laundering should not be declared illegal.
The bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Ahmed Sohail directed the authorities concerned to take appropriate measures to check money laundering.
The court passed the suo motu order considering recent media reports that referred to comments of the foreign minister on money laundering.
Addressing a "Meet the Press" at the Dhaka Reporters' Unity on 18 November, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said, "It is not politicians, it is government employees who are laundering more money. I thought the number of politicians would be higher. I am surprised at the information that came to me – even though it is not the complete information, many of our government employees have more properties abroad and their families also live there."
"I have received 28 cases. Of them, only four are politicians. There are also some readymade garment exporters. The remaining are public officials and employees," the minister added.
Prior to issuing the ruling Sunday, the HC said, "Those who are laundering money are enemies of the country as well as the nation. We think they are being dishonest to the country and the nation. So, we need to look into it seriously. It is important to know how they built their homes abroad. Otherwise, the crime will not decrease."
"We cannot allow them to cheat the country and siphon off the money abroad as they live on the land and studied here. No one can ever do it if there is any love for the country. We cannot allow the criminals. We have so many legal entities and courts, we must work to stop this."
Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik appeared for the state in the court while lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan stood for the ACC.
Khurshid Alam Khan later told the press that they will have to act in accordance with the court instructions after submitting the information.
Money laundering and the rise of 'Begumpara'
Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore are the preferred destinations for the money launderers. Many Bangladeshi have houses and flats in Richmond of Toronto, Canada, and most of them were bought by laundered money from Bangladesh. The place is known to Bangladeshis as "Begumpara".
In this area, Prashanta Kumar Halder alias PK Halder, the well-known director of International Leasing, has built luxury buildings and markets after siphoning off around Tk3,500 crore. Another Health Directorate low-ranking worker named Afzal, who laundered millions of taka from Bangladesh, also has his luxurious villa there.
The Anti-Corruption Commission is inquiring against more than another 50 people who have houses or flats in Begumpara.
A report released by the Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity (GFI) last March said $52.74 billion has been laundered from Bangladesh in the past seven years. A large portion of the amount has been smuggled out through import-export fraud. According to the report, an average of $7.53 billion has been laundered from Bangladesh every year.
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told The Business Standard that the GFI study followed international standards and their information is accurate. However, they obtained the information only from the import-export mismatches.
Besides trade, Golam Moazzem said there are many other ways to smuggle money out of the country. If those were taken into consideration, the amount of laundered money would be much higher.
According to a report released by the Central Bank of Switzerland in June 2018, the amount of money deposited by Bangladeshi nationals in the country's banks stood at 481.3 million Swiss francs. In Bangladeshi currency, the amount is about Tk4,068 crore.
Concerned offices do not have info on laundered amount
Abu Hena Mohammad Razi Hasan, head of the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) and former deputy governor of the Bangladesh Bank, was asked how much money has been laundered from the country.
He told TBS that the central bank did not have any accurate information on that.
Asked about the GFI's information on money laundering, he said not all information is accurate, but largely correct.
He said the "Prevention of Trade Based Money Laundering" policy was enacted last year to prevent money laundering through import-export.
Razi Hasan said, "Apart from the BFIU, several government agencies including ACC, Customs Intelligence and CID work on money laundering cases. We will present the information before the court within the stipulated time."
Echoing Razi Hasan, ACC Secretary Muhammad Dilwar Bakth told TBS that ACC also does not have a complete data on how much money has been laundered from the country or how many individuals have done so.
"We will present the information of the money laundering allegations and cases to the court in due course," he concluded.