All of the authorities concerned – including the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Police, and National Board of Revenue (NBR) – must perform their duties in a coordinated manner to prevent money laundering, said Iqbal Mahmood, chairman of the anti-graft body.
Iqbal Mahmood took over the responsibility of the chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission on 14 March, 2016. In this interview, he talks about the ACC's role in preventing money laundering, provides updates on it and discusses other aspects of anti-corruption.
TBS: Money laundering committed by government employees has recently become a popular topic of discussion. The High Court has also given a directive in this regard. What is the ACC doing about it?
Iqbal Mahmood: We are monitoring the news related to money laundering closely. Allegations of money being siphoned-off are very sensitive. If money earned in illegal ways is siphoned-off, measures are taken as per the Money Laundering Act. Here, tracing the flow of money is very important. That is why we have to proceed ahead very cautiously. The commission obeys all directives of the court sincerely. If any government official siphons-off illegal money, the Anti-Corruption Commission will take action against it.
TBS: You have sent a letter to the foreign ministry seeking information. What is the update?
Iqbal: The commission sent the letter to the ministry to learn whether the information, or list, of those who have received citizenship of different countries under investment quotas can be obtained through embassies in the respective countries or through any other sources. We are keeping close contact with the foreign ministry. I have said earlier that the most important thing in taking action against money launderers is tracing them or their money. This is the preliminary work. We are trying to collect the list of the offenders or their assets.
TBS: Are you giving a list to the High Court on 17 December? What will be on the list?
Iqbal: It would not be an appropriate thing to make a comment or give a statement regarding the court in advance.
TBS: You have served in different important positions as a government official for a long time. What is your observation, especially as the chairman of the ACC, about the allegations of money laundering against government officials?
Iqbal: Money laundering committed by government officials is an unfortunate thing. Government officials must follow a very specific code of conduct. This code of conduct is applicable to them from the very first day of their service. They have to provide their financial statements through filing their income taxes every year. It means that there is a legal structure to monitor their income and assets. Still news is being published in the media that they are siphoning off money.
Those who are involved in these crimes are creating obstacles in the economic, social and cultural development of the country. The ACC or similar anti-graft organisations will not spare them. You know Bangladesh signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2007. The Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit is now a member of Egmont Group. So, tracing money launderers and getting information about them has become easy to some extent. The ACC has sent around 50 mutual legal assistance requests (MLAR) to the countries concerned. We have got replies to 27 requests out of the 50.
Not only the ACC has sent the MLARs but also at least seven organisations from different countries have sent MLARs to the ACC. The commission has replied to each of the requests. Mutual cooperation at the international level is being created in this way.
TBS: Now let us come to the issue of money laundering committed by politicians and businessmen. What is the update on it?
Iqbal: There is no point in talking about professional identities. Professions are not responsible for this – these crimes are committed by individuals. A criminal is a criminal. International trade is a medium of siphoning money. According to several studies, around 80% of money laundering occurs through over- or under-invoicing in the country. So, all the authorities concerned – including the ACC, BFIU, CID, and NBR – will have to work together to prevent money laundering.
TBS: What will you say about the limitation of the ACC caused by the Money Laundering Prevention (Amendment) Act-2015?
Iqbal: As per the existing money laundering act, the ACC does not have the sole authority to conduct a case. Currently, several agencies, including NBR, CID and the Directorate of Narcotics Control, are conducting cases. The Anti-Corruption Commission has got the charge of conducting money laundering cases filed against government employees who have siphoned off money earned through bribery and corruption.
Apart from this, 26 kinds of crimes related to money laundering are now investigated by other agencies. Bringing forth solid allegations and identification in these cases is a time-consuming process. The ACC has achieved success in conducting money laundering cases. It has ensured 100% punishment of the convicts in the cases moved by the ACC over the last two years.
TBS: What is your commitment on this year's International Anti-Corruption Day?
Iqbal: Bangladesh is observing the day on 9 December like it does every year. On 31 October, 2003, the United Nations decided to observe International Anti-Corruption Day on 9 December every year. The same day, the UN adopted the anti-corruption convention. The main objective of observing the day is to raise mass awareness for preventing and eradicating corruption. These decisions of the United Nations (UN) became effective from 2005. The Anti-Corruption Commission has started to observe the day since 2007. However, the day was not observed by the government towards the beginning.
In 2016, the ACC requested the government observe the day. The government took the decision to observe the day in 2017.
The theme of the day this year is "Recover with Integrity." Fighting corruption together for the sake of the world's development, peace and security is a global commitment.
That is why the UN chief says, 'Let us work together relentlessly to invent solutions for winning the fight against corruption and ensure the utilisation of valuable assets for the well-being of people across the globe.'
My humble request to people is: Let us make a vow that we will not give and take any bribe; we will not do any corruption and we will neither accept nor tolerate it.