What's up the government's sleeve?
The budgetary proposal to allow repatriation of laundered money from abroad against the payment of tax at nominal rates has stirred up a hornet's nest. The criticism has subsided a little, as most attention is now concentrated on issues such as a severe flood in the country's north and north-eastern districts and the Padma Bridge inauguration.
In the meantime, a delegation of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) during a meeting with the Finance Minister on Friday last suggested the submission of tax certificates mandatory for people wanting to repatriate the laundered money. The FBCCI, it seems, wants to see people concerned before repatriation of laundered money paid that tax. But one thing is clear: the country's apex chamber has changed its stance on this controversial issue. Initially, it vehemently opposed the proposal.
But, Parliament will have to deal with a few pertinent issues if it wants to adopt the proposed provision (Section 19F of Ordinance No. XXXVI of 1984) of the Finance Bill-2022 that facilitates the repatriation of laundered money from abroad. If incorporation of this section into the tax ordinance is allowed, the Money Laundering Prevention Act that Parliament itself passed in 2012 to punish the money launderers and confiscate their assets will become a useless piece of legislation.
The proposed section of the Finance Bill 2022 provides for exempting the launderers from quizzing by any agency about the source of their undisclosed assets located outside the country. Anything contained in the Income Tax Ordinance or in 'any other law' against such exemption will not be applicable in this case.
Section 3 of the Money Laundering Prevention Act also overrides other laws while dealing with money launderers. Section 4 of the same Act provides for imprisonment for a term of four years, but not exceeding 12 years. The court may also pass an order to forfeit the property of the convicted person in favour of the state 'which directly or indirectly involved in or related with money laundering or any predicate offence'.
Only legal experts can explain a situation that appears to be conflicting in nature.
Leading economists and prominent business leaders have vented their frustration over the proposed amnesty for money launderers. They have found it 'unethical and discriminatory'.
FBCCI President Jashim Uddin, while giving his instant reaction to the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2022-23 on June 09 last, had also opposed the amnesty proposal and said, "I don't like the provision. I think it should not be allowed. It would discourage honest and loyal businesses'. He, thus, echoed the sentiment of the majority.
Most people are clueless about the reasons for the government opting for such a proposition. They feel that the amnesty provision, if passed by Parliament, is unlikely to help repatriation of laundered money, to any notable extent. Some others suspect the government has something up its sleeve. The Finance Minister only a few days back said the country's stock market might become buoyant if the repatriated laundered money flowed into it.Things, however, are still in a fluid state.