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The Financial Express

Should money launderers deserve a reprieve?


Should money launderers deserve a reprieve?

The whole discourse on embezzlement of public money and its siphoning off thereafter has been confined to only one person named PK Halder. Anyone has finally got someone to blame. This culture of making merely one scapegoat has given all others like him the space to hide their faces.

However, certain statutory regulatory order or fiscal measure is going to be announced to incentivise the money launderers to bring back once siphoned-off money. This report suggests that Prashanta Kumar Halder or 'popularly' called PK Halder is not alone.

The man who allegedly swindled up to Tk 10,000 crore or more than US$1.0 billion and transferred the amount illegally to different countries, deserves to be tried as per laws of the land.

Also, the demand that PK Halder must be extradited to Bangladesh, not to mention confiscation of the assets he reportedly had stolen, has been a consensus and that is proven in the government's steps and actions, civil society's criticism and hue and cry from the masses.

Then, what about other big or small fishes who collectively laundered US$50 billion worth of Bangladeshi assets between 2009 and 2018 as revealed by the latest Global Financial Integrity report?

It's not understandable how the political spirit of justice and equity conforms to the planned amnesty to all those PK Halders! Such measure may rather weaken the case of swindling, now and in the future.

Some may question what the wrongdoing is in the attempt to pull back foreign exchange smuggled out of the country, especially in times of dollar crisis, after repeated opportunities had been offered to legalise or whiten ill-gotten, illicit, untaxed or undisclosed money, which is commonly called black money. At least the nationally lost assets would be brought back home for stabilising foreign exchange reserve and raising domestic investment.

Sorry, one immoral action by no means justifies another such action. The ill practices and acts like bribery, extortion, embezzlement, stealing, tax evasion and plundering of public resources can, in no way, be supported in a civilised society.

The immoral and illegal method of making and retaining money is legalised through money whitening schemes contained in the country's finance bills passed by parliament over the years. Still, only an insignificant percentage of such money holders turned up each year until a record amount of almost US$2.5 billion was legalised by a record number of moneyed men last fiscal year.

It's hard to believe the money that is sent abroad illegally is earned by using very legal and morally correct means. This money is called, elsewhere in the world, stolen money. If a portion of it is sent abroad through manipulation of rules for trade transactions or for dodging taxes payable at home, it's plainly black money.

The stolen money needs to be retrieved by applying legal instruments, not presenting a VIP's treatment to them. Global cooperation in this area has increased and a diplomatically engaged government can take steps, mainly enforcement of laws, to bring back money stolen from its territory.

More mechanisms have been developed for discouraging money laundering. Furthermore globalisation and social media networking have made it difficult for identified criminals, not excluding money launderers, to live peacefully even if they flee their motherland. They have to face a social stigma and protests from the communities, if not legal actions immediately, in the countries they migrates to.

Making a fervent call to bring home the money siphoned off, taking advantage of the state's leniency towards those 'criminals' is tantamount to doubling down the process of earning and transacting money in an illicit manner.

Once this influential group grabbed wealth of others and then transferred it to unknown destinations, depriving the country and countrymen of its investment benefits. Now, the same offenders are being honoured for showing it officially just by paying a small percentage of tax despite their double crimes. What a disincentive for people to do their business honestly!

The finance minister could have intervened, in the first place, in the practice of earning money illegally and transferring it abroad illegally by dishonest elements in order to create an atmosphere for fair play. Corruption and crimes can't be encouraged by any means.

There is no point joining either the discussion on how much money is recovered through morally flawed fiscal instrument since the scope itself may encourage millions to earn money illegally.

 

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