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Digital hundi acts behind remittance shortfall

  • Sun Online Desk
  • 9th October, 2022 11:23:08 PM
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Sumaiya Islam Lipi is a resident of Mirpur-13 area of the capital. Her elder brother Md Rony has been working in Saudi Arabia for 14 years. Roni sent Tk 1 lakh 61 thousand and 120 through a total of 24 transactions in May, June and July of this year to the personal account number of his sister Lipi's mobile financial service (MFS) bKash from the KSA. And he sent all this money through digital hundi. Lipi termed sending remittance through banking channels complicated claiming that her brother was compelled to send money using digital hundi.

Last Friday, she said, "For several years, my brother sent a small amount of money to my bKash number. We have no idea about hundi. Sending money from abroad through bank is complicated. The government should eliminate the complications. Then everyone will send money to the country through banks.”

Husband of Sonia Begum, a resident of the capital's Uttara, has been living in Saudi Arabia for the last 10 years. From there, her husband sent a total of Tk 2.22 lakh to Sonia's personal bKash account number in May, June and July this year.

In this connection, Sonia informed that the process of sending money to the country through the bank is complicated. Money does not come instantly. Her husband sends money to bKash account in case emergency. If the amount of money is more, he sends through the bank.

Not only Lipi's brother or Sonia's husband, millions of expatriate Bangladeshis are sending money to their relatives in the country through digital hundi.

As a result, the government is losing a huge amount of foreign exchange. But relatives of expatriates claim that they do not understand what hundi is. Expatriates are sending money through MFS as it is troublesome and time-consuming to send money through banks.

Regarding involvement of agents in hundi business, the responsible officials of MFS institutions say “If any transaction seems suspicious, we submit report to the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU). The investigations that are done are mainly based on the information provided by us.”

Officials of the Financial Crimes Unit of the Police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) say the MFS platform is being used for illegal hundi transactions. Basically, vicious circles are divided into three groups. The first group staying abroad collects foreign exchange from expatriates. Then it gives the money to those who want to smuggle it. The second group collects the money in local currency from the trafficker or his accomplice and gives it to the MFS agent.

Finally, the third group pays the amount in local currency to the number received from the expatriate through the MFS agent. In return, those agents are getting huge commission, which is a punishable offence under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Initially, agents of MFS services namely bKash, Rocket and Upay have been identified for their involvement in the illegal hundi business.

According to CID, the country is deprived of remittance worth Tk 25,000 crores. For the reason, about 7.8 billion dollars or 75 thousand crores of taka did not come to the country in one year.

Sources said Tk 5 crore 39 lakh 66 thousand 253 was 'cashed in' to the number of bKash agent 'SM Money Mukta Traders' of Khilgaon in the capital through 6,479 transactions from April to July this year.

Meanwhile, Tk 6 crore 58 lakh 4 thousand 438 was 'cashed in’ to the agent account number of bKash agent 'Sanjida Enterprise' and 'Akram Pharmacy' in the same area in those four months. The owner of these three institutions is Abdul Basir of Muradnagar in Cumilla. He cashed in most of this money to bKash account for the relatives of Bangladeshis expatriates.

An amount of Tk 6 crore 6 lakh 24 thousand 854 was cashed in to the bKash agent 'Joy Computer' of Chattogram Metropolitan Police (CMP) Kotwali Police Station area through 7, 825 transactions during a period from the last April to August. The owner of the company is Rupan Kanti Das Joy. Most of the transaction was relating to expatriates’ money.

Like Abdul Basir and Rupan Kanti Das, Tk 6 crore 59 lakh has been transacted through a bKash agent named AbulHasan of Shahjadpur in Gulshan Thana area of the capital in three months. Another bKash agent named Fazle Rabbi in Mohammadpur and  Rabbi Telecom are involved in dubious transactions to the tune of Tk 6 crore 56 lakh in three months.

Most of the money has cashed in to the accounts of relatives of expatriates. In these incidents, four separate cases have been filed under the Money Laundering Prevention Act with 43 people named and 44 unnamed. Of them, 17 people have been arrested.

The CID cyber intelligence unit claimed to have found more than 5,000 agent accounts of MFS organisation involved in illegal transactions of money.

Some gangs are illegally using mobile banking services to launder crores of taka. With the help of agents, money launderers are carrying out various illegal businesses including online gambling, drug trading, gold smuggling, Yaba peddling and amassing huge property abroad.

Citing BFIU's investigation, CID officials say that information of sending money of expatriates living in different countries of the world including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Singapore through digital hundi has come to the notice. Most of these MFS numbers are registered with the names of bKash, Nagad, Rocket and Upay.

In this regard, Special Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Financial Crime Unit of CID HumayunKabir said, "The hundi has become a big challenge for the country's reserves. CID is working to prevent hundi activities. If Hundi is stopped, the country's remittance flow will increase. CID is also investigating about 5,000 MFS agents involved in digital hundi business.”

The bKash has the largest number of MFS agents in the country. When asked about the allegation of involvement of MFS agents in digital hundi, Head of Corporate Communications of bKash Shamsuddin Haider Dalim said, "We have three lakh agents. Action is taken against those who are found guilty of such illegal transactions. It is an ongoing process.'

He also said, “There was hundi in the past. Money was then delivered to the doorsteps of the recipients. Now, agents are being used for the purpose.”

Despite several attempts to contact to Bangladesh Bank's outgoing Executive Director and Spokesperson Sirajul Islam over phone last Friday, he did not respond.