Swiss envoy’s remarks on bank deposits conflict with govt, ACC accounts, says HC

Bangladesh has requested information on its citizens’ funds in Swiss bank accounts, insist the state and the anti-graft agency

Published : 14 August 2022, 09:16 AM
Updated : 14 August 2022, 09:16 AM

The High Court says the Switzerland ambassador’s statement regarding Bangladesh’s lack of initiative on seeking information on funds deposited by Bangladeshis in Swiss banks conflicts with the accounts given by the government and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The panel of Justice Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice Khizir Hayat made the statement on Sunday after taking media reports about Swiss Ambassador to Dhaka Nathalie Chuard’s remarks into account and reading the responses to the court’s inquiry from the ACC and the government.

The envoy’s statement created ‘an embarrassing situation’, the court said.

The High Court had ordered the government and the ACC to explain the situation on Thursday.

The government and the ACC highlighted a report from the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit, the central bank’s detective agency, in their responses. The state also submitted information from four national newspapers, while the ACC added another.

After statements from both sides, the court instructed a report to be filed in the form of an ‘affidavit’ and set Aug 21 as the date for submission.

“The foreign minister has given a statement to the media about this,” said Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik, who represented the state at the hearing. “He said the ambassador’s statement was incorrect and called it a lie.”

“Swiss banks released their annual report on Jun 16 of this year. The following day, the BFIU sent a request to Switzerland’s FIU requesting necessary information on money deposit made by several Bangladeshi banks and citizens to their accounts through the Egmont Secure Web, or ESW, system. But Bangladesh has not received any information on the matter.”

The BFIU exchanges information with foreign agencies to prevent money laundering, terrorism funding and to support investigations, the state said. The ESW system is the standard medium of communication worldwide.

The state lawyer said that Bangladesh had asked for information on 67 institutions and individuals since Bangladesh became part of the ESW system in 2013.

“We asked Switzerland’s FIU for information through the ESW,” Manik said. “Switzerland said they only had information on one individual. The BFIU has given the ACC information on another individual.”

“The ambassador made the statement without full knowledge of the situation. She was incorrect.”

“That means Bangladesh sought the information, but they did not provide it?,” one justice asked.

“Yes, the ambassador was incorrect.”

ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told the court, “The ambassador has to make a statement because her remarks at the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh talk were incorrect. It is inconceivable how she could have said such a thing on the spur of the moment.”

He said that the ACC had requested information from the BFIU in 2014, 2019 and 2021. The BFIU then requested the information from Switzerland on behalf of the ACC. The BFIU came back with information on one case.

The lawyer indicated that the ambassador was unaware of the situation and had made the incorrect statement ‘out of ignorance’.

“The remarks have put us in an embarrassing situation,” the justice said in response.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Momen had refuted the Swiss ambassador’s claim, saying that Bangladesh Bank Governor Abdur Rouf Talukder and Finance Secretary Fatima Yasmin had sought the information.

“They said we had asked [for information] earlier, but they did not respond. I asked them to tell this to the public. No one should get away with such lies.”

Speaking at an event organised by the Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh on Wednesday, Ambassador Chuard said Switzerland had provided the government with all available information on “how to reach an agreement on these matters.”

“But no request has been submitted regarding particular funds,” she added.

Asked whether the government had sought any information on money laundering, Chuard added that no request had been made ‘about specific funding’.

Highlighting Switzerland's commitment to implementing international standards, she said, “In accordance with these international standards we can also have some specific regulations and agreements with countries to exchange this type of information.”

“We can also work on that with Bangladesh.”

Every year, Switzerland provides a statistical breakdown of which country money in Swiss banks has come from, Chuard said. Bangladesh has received it too.

According to the annual report published by Switzerland's central bank, deposits by Bangladeshis increased nearly 55 percent to 871.11 million Swiss francs year-on-year in 2021, she said.

Government institutions engaged in tackling corruption and enforcing good governance principles claim most of the money deposited by Bangladeshis in Swiss banks is illegally acquired.

Ministers have also maintained that the government does not have any specific information about money laundering.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher