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Spotlight on 'Begum Para'

Nilratan Halder | November 27, 2020 12:00:00

Issuing a suo moto rule, the High Court (HC) has directed the country's intelligence agencies and various government establishments to stop money laundering and submit details of those involved in the crime. The HC has also issued a rule asking the respondents to explain why their inaction against the launderers should not be declared illegal.

The HC directives have come following reports on siphoning off money in a number of contemporaries and Foreign Minister's observation and comment on the issue. It has taken more than a decade to bring this 'open secret' issue into administrative focus. Canada's 'Begum Para' and second homes in Malaysia of many a money launderer of this country have never been a secret. The foreign minister mentioned he had primary information of 28 money launderers in Toronto and admitted it was very difficult to gather such information.

When the Begum Para had its origin or who laid its foundation is shrouded in the mist of secrecy that lies in all criminal practices. But the Wikipedia may shed some light on the issue. Mass emigration from Bangladesh started in 2006. In that year as many as 4,012 Bangladesh citizens opted to settle in Canada. This number was surpassed only in 2010 when 4,721 Bangladesh nationals migrated to Canada. The lowest number of migrants, 2,106 is recorded in 2009 and the rest of the years up to the year 2018 saw migration in a range well above the lowest figure and below 3,792. By 2018, as many as 40,956 migrants from Bangladesh settled in Canada.

Clearly, Begum Para started taking its shape sometime within this period and most likely in the early part of this time frame. Although, the foreign minister expressed his surprise to know that more government officials than politicians had luxurious residences in Begum Para, his reference to house owners' credit rating for obtaining loan from Canadian banks and fat income abroad smacked of a weak attempt at shielding money launderers. Otherwise, he sounded reasonably strict on this illegal practice.

However, the HC had no such constraint to declare that those who launder money are enemies of the state and the nation. What is surprising is that money laundering, although reported on a regular basis in the media, was never taken seriously to either stem the rot or bring the perpetrators to justice. There are reasons to believe that in the absence of any effective deterrent the crime has continued unabated. So far three countries have been named as the destinations of money laundered for purchasing luxurious residences. At the top is certainly Canada, then comes Malaysia followed by Singapore.

There is nothing to be surprised if other money launderers have also followed in the footsteps of those settling in Canada and Malaysia with preference for different destinations. The foreign minister has insinuated the stashing of unearned money by Bangladesh nationals in Swiss banks from where no information is obtainable. So, money launderers may have scattered in countries of European and African continents as well. The country that has the enviable record of the highest annual rate of superrich, projects as well a darker side of the feat. Transparency in the process of making money is missing in most cases and the wealth accumulation is outrageously inequitable.

True, hard earned money may have illegal channels to travel for investment abroad if there are official restrictions on sending money. But when people buy luxurious homes abroad for family's living, there is definitely something fishy. Their children study there and the family heads usually shuttle between the land of their birth and the country of their second homes by virtue of their passports of both countries.

This means all of these money launderers are not untraceable and had the government been serious about catching them, the task would not have been difficult. Now that the HC has ordered information about them, they surely will get alerted. Maybe, they will take shelter in their adopted country for as long as the dust takes to settle down. This is what happens in most criminal cases. As one mind-blowing issue jolts the nation it captures the attention. Another issue of renewed interests and seriousness comes forward to relegate the earlier one on to the backburner.

The issue of money laundering should be settled once for all, because it not only saps the country's financial strength and harms its development process but also leaves a morally corrosive impact on the mindset of the people. Unearned money or 'black money' naturally finds its way out of the country through various channels. In the process it has to grease palms all the way, creating a vicious underworld regime that proves hard to dismantle. Without an international network, like the one of drug cartels, such transactions across the borders are well-nigh impossible.

Now that the prime minister has also given a green signal to catch the 'sahebs' --- in fact camouflaged national traitors maintaining link with underworld circles ---of Begum Para, some momentum to the investigation can be expected. Whether those elements can be brought to book is however a different proposition. Unless the country has signed agreements for such repatriation, it is not possible. The best way is to plug the holes through which money gets out of the country and strict vigilance can catch the criminals at the time of committing the crime.

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