MONEY LAUNDERING ENQUIRIES
The Anti-Corruption Commission has voiced concern that police involvement in the investigation of money laundering cases, as proposed by the home ministry, might lead to harassment of citizens.The ACC made its position clear on Wednesday in response to the home ministry’s suggestion to involve the police in such investigations through an amendment to the Money Laundering Act 2012.
In its position paper, the ACC observed that the proposed amendment would put police on a parallel footing with the ACC investigators.
The police and other investigation agencies cannot act in parallel with the ACC if the independence of the quasi-judicial institution were to be maintained, according to position paper of the ACC which was sent to Bank and Financial Institutions Division on Wednesday.
It noted that such proposal was contrary to independence of the ACC law. At present, the court takes cognisance of such cases filed by the ACC after investigation and there was no scope for parallel investigation by any other agencies as filing more than one case against a suspect by separate agencies would create legal complexities.ACC takes up cases after carrying out enquiries whereas the proposed amendment would give scope to file cases without any enquiry which would pave the way for harassment of a suspect.
The ACC ensures protection of public servants from harassment and justice as it verifies and inquires an allegation before lodging a first information report.But in case of engaging the police, there will be no chance of inquiry as the police will directly file a case, investigate it, submit charge sheet without ACC sanction and arrest the suspect, creating scope for harassment of public servants.
As the existing law exclusively empowered the ACC to deal with the money laundering crimes, people’s aspiration would be denied and legal complexity would appear in court following the police investigation.The ACC said that since 2009 they enquired 285 money laundering cases. Of them, 254 cases were filed and charge sheets in 112 cases were given. Three cases were settled in the court with the ACC winning all. ACC has also confiscated 1,011 bank accounts in connection with the money laundering cases. The frozen accounts amounted to around Tk 289 crore.
Former law minister Shafique Ahmed supported the ACC’s stand that police’s investigation in money laundering cases would create scope for harassing the innocent.Shafique said that increasing number of pending money laundering cases with the ACC might be a reason for the move.
As the ACC is trying its best to investigate the money laundering cases with its small manpower, the government should allow the specialised prosecuting institution to work independently providing it with adequate manpower and logistics to fight against corruption and money laundering, he added.Shafique said the proposed amendment of anti-money laundering law might be used as a shield for protecting public servants like the earlier amendment stripping the ACC of its power to prosecute public servants on corruption charges without permission from the government.
The High Court, however, in a verdict delivered on January 30 struck down the controversial ‘Section 32KA of the Anti-Corruption Commission (Amendment) Act 2004 as ‘illegal’, Shafique added.
Supreme Court lawyer Ahsanul Karim, who fights most cases against money laundering suspects, said that police investigation in money laundering cases would lead to serious legal complications.The Criminal Law Amendment Act stipulates trial of corruption and money laundering cases by special judges’ courts with the sanction of the ACC but the police have no authority to sanction a corruption or money laundering case, he added.
Executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh Iftekharuzzaman told New Age that there ware reasons for concern over the proposed amendment. In addition to issues of possible legal complications and harassment of people as mentioned by ACC officials, there are chances of conflict of interest.Giving the police a share of ACC’s jurisdiction will compromise the chances of investigations being conducted with objectivity, integrity and professionalism.While the home ministry may consider it appropriate to introduce such a vital change to the law, it should not be done without involving other key stakeholders like the ACC itself, law ministry, experts concerned and above all civil society and the media.
‘As for money laundering crimes, the ACC should have the authority to independently operate a special unit that will take assistance, when necessary, from police and other relevant law enforcement agencies as well as Bangladesh Bank, NBR, etc,’ Iftekharuzzaman added.
The bank and financial institutions division officials said they wanted review of the clause dealing with inevitability of the approval of the ACC for filing money laundering cases in a meeting scheduled to be held on October 21.They said the clause on orders to freeze or attach property would also be reviewed.
Under the clause, the court may, on the basis of a written application by the ACC or any person or organisation authorised by it, issue an order to freeze or attach the property, within or outside the country, involving money laundering or any other offence.
The officials said the amendment also aimed at increasing power and responsibilities of Bangladesh Bank in restraining and preventing the offence of money laundering. At present, BB monitors dozens of issues relating to cash transactions and suspicious transactions.
A high-powered working group, headed by former Bank and Financial Institutions Division secretary Shafiqur Rahman Patwary, was formed in late 2012 to identify the shortcomings and loopholes in the money laundering law. The group also includes representatives from the ministries of home, law and foreign affairs and the Anti-Corruption Commission.