Bangladesh’s key opposition leader Dr Kamal Hossain and his daughter’s defence in cases of substantial tax evasion has suffered a blow after the fresh revelation of many undisclosed incomes from foreign sources for legal services rendered in Bangladesh.
A publicly available international arbitration award from 2019 and a glance at Dr Kamal’s CV, available in the public domain, blow the lid on these hefty deals.
For the assessment year 2018/2019, the proceedings of which have now been stayed by the High Court, Dr Kamal Hossain received USD 216,718.04 for which no evidence has been provided to the country’s financial watchdog or the High Court.
In the arbitration proceeding between Standard Chartered Bank (HONG KONG) Limited and the United Republic of Tanzania, Dr Kamal and two other lawyers who worked as members of the Tribunal were paid these hefty amounts.
Moreover, Dr Kamal served as a member of numerous international arbitration cases, including the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal, and the international tribunals dealing with maritime disputes between Malaysia and Singapore and Guyana and Suriname. In his curriculum vitae, Hossain list at least eighteen such cases, for which surely he was very well paid.
The focus of the investigation is thus on whether he disclosed these incomes in his tax returns.
Earlier, an investigation by the country’s National Board of revenue, found Dr Kamal had evaded tax of around 60 million Bangladesh Taka on the incomes of his law company.
He owns a 50 per cent share in this law firm while his daughter has a 20 per cent stake.
While in the writ petition No. 6270 of 2022, the law firm of Dr Kamal Hossain admits to receiving payment from overseas for legal services rendered in Bangladesh, the High Court, he stands accused of misleading the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, where he practices as a Senior Advocate.
In stark contrast to the lower court decision, the duo obtained a ruling from a High Court Division Bench, comprising Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice SM Maniruzzaman, asking the government to explain why an Income Tax Appellate Tribunal decision against their firm should not be quashed.
The crux of the case is that, for the assessment year 2018/2019, NBR found irregularities in two Standard Chartered Bank accounts, account No. 01-1825445-03 and account No. 01-1825445-04 owned and operated by the father and daughter.
The Court also issued an order of status quo on the pending case against the Hossains for allegedly hiding their law firm’s income, setting instances where the High Court has interfered with the workings of a tax tribunal and quashed a case against tax assesses who have allegedly concealed their incomes from the tax authorities.
Ironically, in the case of all other citizens, such powers are rarely exercised by the courts to protect tax dodgers.
Citizens are increasingly vocal that specially privileged persons like the Hossains should not be allowed to get away with concealment of their actual overseas income earned as residents in Bangladesh because that sets a bad example for tax enforcement.