When the Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said in parliament on Wednesday that he doesn't "have a list of those who took the money", in reply to a question on money laundering, a large number of people were left aghast.
Only on 29 May, an investigative journalistic piece in a local daily reported that none other than the wife of a member of parliament – Shafiqul Islam Shimul – had purchased a house in Toronto of Canada for a million and a half Canadian dollars.
In fact, Canada, and more specifically, Begum Para of Toronto, has become the epicenter of conversations surrounding money laundering from Bangladesh. There is of course no real area named Begum Para in Toronto, but is actually a reference to the posh neighborhoods where increasing numbers of well-off Bangladeshis reside.
A large part of these Bangladeshis – by the admission of the foreign minister AK Abdul Momen himself in November last year – are government servants. The Anti-Corruption Commission later opened an investigation into 28 houses owned by government officials in Canada while the High Court issued an injunction to restrain people from laundering money abroad and directed intelligence agencies to take appropriate steps to stop the laundering of money.
In recent years, the involvement of politicians and business in money laundering and capital flight have led to major scandals. Former Member of Parliament Mohammad Shahidul Islam was accused of laundering 53 million Kuwaiti dinars (1,400 crore takas) and later sentenced to four years in Kuwaiti jail. Another Bangladeshi escapee to Canada – Prasanta Kumar Haldar – reportedly fled with 3,500 crore takas with the help of Bangladesh Bank officials.
Meanwhile, according to Immigration Canada, from 2015 to 2019, 16,325 Bangladeshi citizens got permanent residence in Canada.
A Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report in March 2020 said that Bangladesh lost $7.53 billion a year between 2008 and 2017 in capital flight, which mostly happened through trade misinvoicing.
According to the Swiss National Bank's annual report released in June last year, deposits by Bangladeshi citizens in Swiss banks stood at 603.02 million Swiss francs.
All these, and the Minister is still looking for a list.