Three Bangladeshi banks have been reported to have links with global networks of illicit fund flow with their names having appeared in suspicious transactions.
The disclosure came through leaked documents – obtained by BuzzFeed News – that contain more than 2,100 "suspicious activity reports" filed by banks and other financial firms with the United States Department of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released a report based on the leaked documents, dubbed the FinCEN Files, on Sunday.
Of the three Bangladeshi banks, two are Islamic banks and one is state-owned.
However, the Bangladeshi banks' amount of suspicious transactions was very insignificant compared to those of banks in other South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The amount reported for Bangladesh was $0.8 million, equivalent to above Tk7 crore, while the transaction value was $888.46 million in India, $2.39 million in Pakistan and $99.94 million in Afghanistan, according to the report.
The transactions of Bangladeshi banks were processed via two US-based banks, which filed suspicious activity reports with the FinCEN.
The money from this sample of transactions moved between Bangladesh, the US and three other countries between 2014 and 2016, according to the report.
Of the Bangladeshi banks, two Islamic banks brought home $337,733 through four transactions – three with an Australian and one with a Latvian bank.
The state-owned bank sent $495,204 from the country through four transactions – all in September 2016 – with a German bank.
These eight transactions were extracted from the FinCEN Files as samples to show how suspicious transfers flowed to and from Bangladesh.
The sample disclosure links Bangladesh with a global network of fund flow of more than$2 trillion, which the journalists' consortium suspects to have been laundered or spent in criminal activities between 1999 and 2017.
The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit will investigate if there was any rule breach or money laundering through the transactions, said its chief Abu Hena Mohd Razee Hassan.
Talking to The Business Standard, he said, "These are suspicious transactions and it has not been confirmed that the money laundering rule was breached. These also can be normal business transactions. So, we need to investigate to confirm if there was illicit fund flow," he added.
Inflow and outflow of money through the banking channel is normal all over the world. So, such a suspicious money transaction does not prove illicit cash flow, Abu Hena opined.
The FinCEN records show that five global banks — JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon — kept profiting from powerful and dangerous players even after the US authorities fined these financial institutions for earlier failures to stem flows of dirty money.
The revealed documents shed light on a faulty system where banks complain about reports that get no follow-up from authorities, while critics say lenders are checking off boxes without taking meaningful steps to stop financial crime.
It all risks another black eye for major international banks that paid a total of $20 billion from 2012 through 2015 for having lax controls against money laundering, helping clients evade taxes or violate the US sanctions.
The documents shared with the ICIJ identified more than $2 trillion in transactions between 1999 and 2017 that were flagged by the financial institutions' internal compliance officers as possible money laundering or other criminal activity, the report said.
The top two banks are Deutsche Bank AG, which disclosed $1.3 trillion of suspicious money in the files, and JPMorgan Chase & Co., which disclosed $514 billion, the analysis found.