US ambassador to Dhaka Patricia A Butenis on April 6, 2006 wrote to Washington and other related destinations about Islami Bank’s being fined for violation of anti-money laundering law in connection with JMB-related transactions, thanks to WikiLeaks who released the cable along with million others in 2011.
The recipients include the commander in chief of US Pacific Command, the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Department of the Treasury, US mission in Kolkata, and embassies in Delhi, Kathmandu, Islamabad, Colombo and London, the National Security Council and the Secretary of State.
Bangladesh Bank, the central bank of Bangladesh, fined Islami Bank on April 5 for violation of the country’s anti-money laundering law (AML) in connection with an account linked to the banned JMB. The Tk1,00,000 fine was the maximum fine authorised under the law.
The pro-Jamaat bank was also fined in 2002 and 2004 for violations of the same law.
The fine followed an investigation of account documents, including a checkbook for an account at Islami Bank, found at the house in Sylhet where banned JMB leader Sheik Abdur Rahman was arrested.
According to the BB report, the checking account was opened in February 1999 in the name of Saidur Rahman but lay dormant until January 2006, when eight deposits totalling approximately Tk4,15,000 were wired to the account from Islami Bank branches in Gazipur and Savar (both near Dhaka) by a person who identified himself as Javed Khan.
The funds were withdrawn from the account within a few weeks. Saidur Rahman is the former ameer of Habiganj district Jamaat-e-Islami and is said to be the father of JMB’s information and technology section chief Shamim.
Investigators also found documents showing Saidur Rahman had accounts at the government-owned Rupali and Janata banks. BB review of those accounts revealed the accounts were inactive and the BB has taken no action against the government banks.
The BB action against Islami Bank is based on two violations of the AML. First, the BB found that Islami Bank failed to adhere to know your customer rules with respect to both the transfers of Javed Khan and the account of Saidur Rahman, when he reactivated the account earlier this year.
Second, the BB found that the large transactions (by local standards) into and out of a previously dormant account should have triggered a suspicious transaction report to the BB.
Islami Bank moved swiftly to conduct its own investigation of the transactions.
Executive President Abdur Rakib told econoff the bank has suspended five employees, including the three branch managers and is investigating 15 other employees for their involvement in the transactions. “We take compliance very seriously,” he said, adding the actions against the employees were intended, in part, to reinforce that message for other employees.
Rakib says the bank regularly conducts training for branch managers and employees on compliance with the AML, often in conjunction with officials from the BB. He also described an active information program within the bank, including regular circulars to branches with current information on AML issues.
Rakib has publicly stated the bank’s commitment to combat terrorist financing and comply with the AML and the rules and procedures of the BB. Despite this lapse, he defends the bank’s overall record, pointing to its 2.7 million customer base severed by 169 branches in Bangladesh.
Citibank Bangladesh has a banking relationship with Islami Bank. Contacted by econoff, Mamun Rashid, CEO for Citibank Bangladesh, said Citibank had conducted its own internal review following initial reports linking JMB accounts to Islami Bank. He expressed satisfaction with the cooperation they received from Islami Bank.
“They accept responsibility for the mistakes, they have taken action, and they are appropriately nervous about the lapses this revealed” he said.
Acknowledging the bank’s connections with Jamaat, he said Islami Bank has a solid reputation as a well run bank. He too pointed to the bank’s large customer base and 169 branches as evidence that this was an anomaly and not indicative of the bank’s normal operations.
Notes: 1. In 1971, Chairman of the bank Abu Naser was the president of Chittagong unit of Islami Chhatra Sangha, then students’ wing of Jamaat, members of which joined notorious al-Badr who killed hundreds of people across the country, mainly the noted intellectuals who supported the independence of Bangladesh.
2. Mir Kashem Ali is the founding director of the bank. He is facing trial over charges of crimes against humanity he had committed as the commander of al-Badr in Chittagong in 1971.
3. Islami Bank claims that they do “Islami Shariah-based banking” which is absurd and yet to be supervised and monitored by the central bank.
4. After the Shahbagh movement asked people to boycott Islami Bank and other pro-Jamaat organisations, products and service, Islami Bank increased its marketing spending for the newspapers and television channels.
5. It has donated huge amount of money to the government’s funds and sponsored different programmes including 2011 ICC World Cup and 2013 Bangladesh Games.