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Lobbyists press Washington to take more punitive actions against Bangladesh

Washington, Biden administration, Antony Blinken, United States, Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, US State Department, Sanction, US Department of Treasury

Opinion

Lobbyists press Washington to take more punitive actions against Bangladesh

While Washington is going to issue fresh list of sanctions targeting a large number of civil servants and politicians in Bangladesh, anti-Bangladesh forces are making frantic bids in convincing the Biden administration in holding the 2023 general elections in the country under direct supervision of the United States.

It may be mentioned here that, recently Washington imposed sanctions on Nicaragua following a sham election. Detailing the sanctions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said:

The United States is acting to promote accountability for Nicaraguan officials in the wake of the November sham election in Nicaragua.  Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions against the Nicaraguan Public Ministry and nine Nicaraguan government officials.

On November 7, the Ortega-Murillo government held an election that denied Nicaraguans their ability to vote in free and fair elections, following months of repression and the imprisonment of 39 individuals, including seven potential presidential candidates, opposition members, journalists, students, and members of civil society.  For years, the Ortega-Murillo government chipped away at Nicaragua’s democratic institutions and allowed corruption and impunity to reign.

As a result, the US Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against the Nicaraguan Public Ministry and nine Nicaraguan officials.  The Public Ministry played a primary role in the regime’s arrests of potential opposition presidential candidates, other leaders of civil society, the private sector, students, and journalists in advance of the elections. The US Department of the Treasury designated the nine Nicaraguan officials pursuant to E.O. 13851 for being officials of the Government of Nicaragua or having served as officials of the Government of Nicaragua at any time on or after January 10, 2007.  These nine individuals facilitate the Ortega-Murillo regime’s repression, including its human rights abuses, or manage institutions that finance the undemocratic Ortega-Murillo regime or otherwise sustain it at the expense of the Nicaraguan people.

In the sanction announcement issued on November 15, 2021, the US Department of Treasury said:

Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Public Ministry of Nicaragua (Ministerio Publico de Nicaragua) as well as nine officials of the Government of Nicaragua in response to the sham national elections orchestrated by President Daniel Ortega (Ortega) and Vice President Rosario Murillo (Murillo). This action targets those who are repressing Nicaraguans for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Between October 2020 and June 2021, the Nicaraguan National Assembly, controlled by Ortega and Murillo, approved six laws that facilitated the government’s repression against the opposition and eliminated its chances in the November 2021 elections. Several officials designated in today’s action were appointed to their government positions by Ortega and are key supporters of the regime and its anti-democratic policies; the officials designated today also include multiple persons implicated in violence against peaceful protestors during Nicaragua’s 2018 demonstrations.

As President Biden stated, President Daniel Ortega and Vice President Murillo orchestrated a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair, and most certainly not democratic. The unjust imprisonment of nearly 40 opposition figures since May, including seven potential presidential candidates, and the blocking of political parties from participation rigged the outcome well before election day.

“The Ortega regime is using laws and institutions to detain members of the political opposition and deprive Nicaraguans from the right to vote,” said Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea M. Gacki. “The United States is sending an unequivocal message to President Ortega, Vice President Murillo, and their inner circle that we stand with the Nicaraguan people in their calls for reform and a return to democracy”.

Today’s action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13851, “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Contributing to the Situation in Nicaragua,” and the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 (NHRAA), now known as the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act of 2018 (NICA), is intended to highlight the anti-democratic actions that the Ortega regime has undertaken to alter and corrupt the election process in Nicaragua and solidify the power of Ortega, Murillo and their inner circle.

With these new sanctions, the United States, joined by our international partners, continues to take concrete actions to respond to the Ortega-Murillo government’s attacks on civil liberties and free and fair elections.  We welcome that Canada and the United Kingdom also imposed targeted measures today.  As the OAS General Assembly made clear on November 12, under President Ortega and Vice President Murillo, the Nicaraguan government moves toward further isolation if it continues to undermine democracy and deny Nicaraguans their human rights.  We stand with the region in calling for a return to democracy in Nicaragua and the immediate and unconditional release of political prisoners.

Further details of the sanctions imposed on Nicaragua is available HERE.

It may be mentioned here that, the Biden administration has decided to adopt a stricter policy on combating corruption. As part of this policy, US President Joe Biden is going to impose sanctions on a large number of civil servants and politicians in Bangladesh.

The policy states that those who purchased properties in the United States and deposited cash through money laundered from abroad would be asked to submit specific evidence showing such properties were not purchased with dirty money. Failing in providing such evidence will result in confiscation of assets and freezing of bank accounts. The US administration will publish list of the sanctioned individuals once punitive measures are taken.

A highly-placed source in the Biden administration told Weekly Blitz that President Joe Biden is putting special emphasis in combating corruption and money laundering under its policy of checking global corruption. As part of this initiative, an investigation has already been launched on gathering details about properties purchased by foreigners through laundered cash.

According to the US administration sources, such actions are not only going to be taken against Bangladeshi civil servants and politicians, but it also will be applied on a large number of individuals from India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal and other South Asian nations as well as nations in Asia and other continents. The source said, dozens of Bangladeshi bureaucrats and politicians are already on the potential list of sanctions. It said, the fresh list of sanctions will be published by the first quarter of 2022.

Meanwhile, seeking anonymity, a highly placed intelligence source told Blitz that a large number of high-profile politicians, businessmen and civil-military bureaucrats may come under the new sanction list.

It said, since 2001, the trend of buying properties in the US and depositing large amount of cash in banks by Bangladeshi nationals have reached an alarming level. Such amounts were laundered into the United States mostly through illegal hawala channels operated by Bangladeshi nationals living in New York City and other parts of the country.

The source further said, initially it was anticipated that majority of the people who had purchased properties in the United States with dirty money were politicians from Bangladesh. But the recent investigations have found that most of these people are bureaucrats.

The source said, until now, the US administration has already detected hundreds of properties purchased with dirty money mostly by bureaucrats. Owners of these properties will be asked to submit valid documents showing the amount were earned through legal means and transferred to the United States through banking channels. Anyone failing in providing such evidences will face sanctions and their properties will be confiscated and bank accounts frozen.

The US administration has also detected several properties and bank accounts which are even owned by some serving Bangladeshi bureaucrats.

Washington’s integrated country policy on Bangladesh

The US State Department in its published integrated policy on Bangladesh said: A more peaceful and stable Bangladesh, better able to provide for its own security, counter threats to US interests, and serve as a growing security contributor in the IndoPacific and globally.

This goal helps advance our policy priority of protecting the American people and the homeland, including through our Consular services. We work to put Bangladesh in the position of being a net security provider rather than a security consumer. As emphasized in the National Security Strategy, defeating jihadist terrorists requires denying them the ability to operate or recruit anywhere in the world, including in Bangladesh. Messaging and outreach will be key components in helping Post reach these goals, objectives, and subobjectives.

Bangladesh is more capable of protecting its sovereignty, population, and borders, and countering violent extremism.

Bangladesh’s security and stability underpin the country’s economic and political success. This objective begins with the ability to mitigate terrorism and other forms of criminal activity within Bangladesh’s borders. Bangladesh particularly requires improved capacity to conduct investigation-led operations and develop a sophisticated understanding of its adversaries to detect and disrupt them before they act. More broadly, Bangladesh must prevent transnational criminal organizations from propagating their ideology, accumulating personnel or resources, or planning and carrying out attacks. US support also aims at buttressing Bangladesh’s ability to manage the forced migration of Rohingya refugees from Burma to help preserve Bangladesh’s stability. Finally, US assistance and military sales facilitate Bangladesh’s significant contributions to UN peacekeeping efforts. Failure to achieve Mission Objective may leave Bangladesh less able to govern or sustain its population, threatening its basic stability, and thereby our relationship and interests in the region.

With improved capacity, Bangladesh has the potential to be a more significant security partner fostering greater regional stability and helping to sustain global peace. Increased interoperability among all Bangladeshi security forces will further enable the country to provide for its own domestic security. Improved security at Bangladeshi air and seaports will reduce the country’s vulnerability to terrorist and criminal activity as well as provide greater stability for international trade. Deepening the US-Bangladesh defense relationship through bilateral enabling defense agreements and increased sales of more advanced US military equipment to Bangladesh will expand US access to and interoperability with Bangladesh. Finally, to support Indo-Pacific Strategy goals Bangladesh must protect its freedom-of-navigation, ensure equitable access to sea lanes, and promote maritime security to help advance regional stability, integration, and trade. Failure to achieve this objective would compromise US relationships and influence in Bangladesh, hamper growth of bilateral trade, and, by extension, impede implementation of the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

About democracy and electoral system in Bangladesh, the US State Department said: Supporting democracy, good governance, and human rights is a core component of the Indo-Pacific Strategy. The 2017 National Security Strategy prioritizes supporting the dignity of individuals, noting that a world which supports American interests and reflects our values will in turn make us more secure and prosperous. Bangladesh’s strategic location and its historical example as a pluralistic and tolerant Muslim democracy make it a critical partner. Respect for human rights and democratic processes, in concert with citizen confidence in governance, will reduce political distrust – a driver of political violence and radicalization to violent extremism.

Messaging and outreach will be key components in helping Post reach these goals and meet objectives and sub-objectives.

Bangladesh holds free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections at all levels, protects vulnerable populations, and ensures civil liberties.

US engagement, including in collaboration with like-minded diplomatic missions, is key to strengthening Bangladesh’s respect for civil liberties and tolerance, and the foundation of a peaceful, democratic, stable, and prosperous partner. Bangladesh’s embrace of such principles is not only essential to achieving long-term internal and regional security, but also ensures free expression, democratic debate, and free and fair elections can occur without the threat of political and communal violence. These principles are strongly tied to efforts to reduce and eliminate violence against minorities. Lack of progress on achieving this objective in a Bangladesh where democratic space continues to shrink could increase political instability, including by increasing the vulnerability of disenfranchised populations to exploitation by international terror groups, and cause a dramatic slowdown in economic progress if unchecked political patronage further replaces economic freedom.

This is where lobbyists and elements working for Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami are focusing. They are trying to convince policymakers in Washington in intervening in the 2023 general elections in Bangladesh. They also want Biden administration to convey message to Bangladesh about “consequences” if the 2023 general elections in not held is a “free and fair” manner. Meaning, lobbyists and elements working for Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami want to return to power with the active support from the Biden administration.

Read Tomorrow: How Bangladesh can get rid of the recently imposed US sanctions?

An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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