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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

US want fast enactment of law against terror finance

Dhaka, 19 May, (INS + A visiting US high official yesterday urged the government to frame and enact an effective anti-money laundering law and take steps to curb financial crimes as part of the Bush administration's global drive against militancy.

Patrick M O'Brien, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the US Treasury Department, recommended the actions at a number of meetings with the central bank governor and high officials of home and foreign ministries during his two-day official visit here from Wednesday.

In the meetings, sources said, O'Brien expressed his government's concern at the delay in drawing up an amended and tougher anti-money laundering bill. He urged the authorities concern to formulate the bill in a way that facilitates apprehending and punishing the money-launders and terrorist financiers.

Although the government has succeeded in nabbing some militant kingpins, it is yet to trace their sources or networks of finance, the assistant secretary pointed out.

O'Brien also conveyed the US interest in providing technical assistance to the proposed Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to be set up in Bangladesh Bank (BB).

After his meeting with BB Governor Salehuddin Ahmed yesterday, O'Brien did not disclose any significant information to reporters in response to their query about the purpose of his visit and the issues he had discussed.

However, the American Center in Dhaka in a press statement said O'Brien talked terrorist financing and money laundering issues with the government.

According to the statement, "The talks were constructive. The two sides discussed Bangladesh's efforts to strengthen its legal framework for dealing with terrorist financing and money laundering, which is part of a broader US Government commitment to support Bangladesh in combating terrorism and preventing terrorists from using Bangladesh as a venue or a conduit for terrorist actions."

The BB governor also told the press that their discussion was on issues related to terrorist financing and financial crimes. The central bank apprised O'Brien of what it has been doing in this regard, Salehuddin said, adding O'Brien also offered technical assistance for the proposed FIU.

Washington has been pressuring Dhaka since 2002 to amend the existing Anti-Money Laundering Act. The US government also has been offering technical and financial support for strengthening the BB activities to curb money laundering and terrorist financing. A number of US experts have already visited Bangladesh and held discussions with the central bank and government officials concerned.

Following the recent upsurge of Islamist militant activities across the country, the BB could only detect some bank accounts used for suspicious monetary transactions but failed to trace the sources of the funds.

"We could not find out information beyond the suspicious nature of the transactions," said a BB source, "and so far have forwarded over a hundred such cases to the Criminal Investigation Department of police." But, there has been little progress in investigating those cases, he added.

The existing Anti-Money Laundering Act has many weaknesses. For example, it has shortcomings in investigation modality and punitive provisions. That is why, though the central bank found involvement of some banks in terrorist financing, it could not penalize them except fining Tk one hundred thousand at the highest.

Following the US government's insistence to refurbish the law in line with its counterparts in other countries and a lot of examinations, the finance ministry drafted and sent a new Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act to the cabinet a couple of months ago. But, the cabinet sent it back for further scrutiny and revision.

Then, a recent inter-ministerial meeting decided to amend the existing law, instead of introducing a new one. The process of drafting the amendments has been going on for a long time now.

There was a proposal for creating a separate Financial Crime Investigation and Prosecution Office in the draft Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Prevention Act, but the inter-ministerial meeting struck it off from the draft.

If such an office cannot be formed it will not be possible for the CID to investigate into financial crimes, sources said.

But, a central bank source said no law is needed for setting up such an office; the government can do it through an executive order.

Meanwhile, the US assistant secretary also called on State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar.

- INS + -

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