Mercantile Bank Chairman Shahidul Ahsan has drawn benefits from nearly Tk 44-crore shares held by two sponsor directors in the NRB Commercial (NRBC) Bank, violating the Banking Company Law, according to Bangladesh Bank findings.
Shahidul influenced the NRBC Bank board to allow him to enjoy dividends against the shares and get loan facilities for his business organisation. He even attended meetings of the NRBC Bank board on several occasions in breach of the law, found the BB.
“Shahidul Ahsan is the actual beneficiary of the shares held by two NRBC Bank directors -- Kamrun Nahar Sakhi and ABM Abdul Mannan -- and those shares are forfeitable,” said a central bank report prepared last year.
Contacted, Shahidul said, “The report [by the central bank] is completely false.” He, however, declined to explain.
Asked, NRBC Bank Chairman Farasath Ali refused to say anything on the matter.
According to the BB report, Shahidul was present in last year's annual general meeting of the NRBC Bank as proxy for Sakhi, who lives in Canada. He also attended several meetings of the NRBC Bank board and its executive committee in violation of the rules. The NRBC Bank chairman admitted this to the BB enquiry team.
Sakhi has shares worth Tk 13.30 crore and Mannan, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, holds shares worth Tk 30.41 crore in the NRBC Bank. None of the two sponsor directors travelled to Bangladesh since the NRBC Bank's inception in April 2013.
But both were shown present in a number of meetings of the NRBC Bank board and its executive committee by forging their signatures, the report pointed out.
As allegations of irregularities at the NRBC Bank began to surface in 2015, AKM Shafiqul Islam and Syed Golam Farouque -- both directors of Ahsan Group owned by Shahidul -- were appointed alternate directors for Sakhi and Mannan.
Farouque had attended four meetings of the NRBC Bank board before he was appointed alternate director, the BB found.
The money Sakhi and Mannan paid for buying shares in the NRBC Bank was disbursed from their foreign currency accounts with Mercantile Bank's Gulshan Branch. The accounts were opened while they were abroad, and Shahidul was found directly involved in opening and managing the accounts, said the report.
The dividends awarded to Sakhi against her NRBC Bank shares in 2015 were deposited with Shahidul's savings account at Mercantile Bank, and he withdrew the money. He also attended the NRBC Bank's annual general meeting as proxy director for Sakhi on April 4 last year, it said.
The BB report, however, didn't mention what links Shahidul has with Sakhi and Mannan or whether he has any business dealings with the two.
The Daily Star couldn't contact Sakhi and Mannan for comments.
Central bank officials told this correspondent that Sakhi is a loan defaulter at more than one bank in Bangladesh. They, however, didn't give details.
According to the NRBC Bank website, Sakhi, who is from Chittagong, is now a Canadian citizen. She is involved in real estate development business and also runs a gas station in Canada.
The website also mentions that Mannan, born in 1944 in Dhaka, is an established businessman in the US. He has business experience of more than a decade at AAA Wash & Clean in the US.
In its 45th meeting on July 24 last year, the NRBC Bank board decided to transfer Sakhi's shares to Md Harun, an expatriate Bangladeshi in Dubai, on the basis of a letter signed by Sakhi.
Scrutinising Sakhi's emails to the NRBC Bank regarding transfer of her shares, the BB enquiry team found a letter signed by her on July 17 in this regard.
The letter, which the NRBC Bank chairman referred to the bank's secretary, said the shares would be transferred to Harun. In the letter, Ahsan Tower, owned by Shahidul, was mentioned as Harun's address in Bangladesh, said the BB report.
While checking Sakhi's emails to the NRBC Bank, the BB team found that she asked the bank chairman on October 4-5 not to transfer her shares in her absence or without verification by the Canadian High Commission in Bangladesh.
Sakhi, who left Bangladesh for Canada in 2009, also attached a letter to one of the e-mails in which she mentioned that her husband was very ill, and that was why she couldn't come to Bangladesh.
The NRBC Bank board approved a Tk 140-crore loan for AG Agro, a concern of Ahsan Group, on May 8, 2013, four days after Shahidul submitted an application for the loan.
Since the collateral against the loan was only Tk 3.91 crore, the BB advised the NRBC Bank to bring down the loan amount. But the board ignored the advice. Instead, it raised the loan amount to TK 183 crore in May last year, putting the bank at risk, the report stated.
Shafiqul Islam is a director of AG Agro and Golam Farouque is its adviser. Both are alternate directors of the NRBC Bank.
The NRBC Bank also gave a loan to Aziz Chowdhury and his son Salauddin Chowdhury for building a house. But the money was later transferred to AG Agro's account with the NRBC Bank. Another loan was given to Stylish Garments, owned by the Chowdhury family, and the money was also transferred to the same AG Agro account.
The report noted that instead of generating money from his own business, Shahidul kept paying regular instalments for his loans from the NRBC Bank by having disbursed more loans from the bank under different names. And he did it all with the support of the managing director and a section of directors of the NRBC Bank board.
Besides, the NRBC Bank's head office approved loans of Tk 19 crore against Begumganj Feed Mills, an associate company of Ahsan Group, without any loan application from the client and proposal from the branch concerned. Later, the client submitted a backdated application to the bank.
At a meeting on May 11 last year, the bank board raised the loan amount to Tk 118 crore without verifying the company's capacity to pay back the loan.
Following disbursement of the loan, Shahidul's brother Shafiqul Ahsan was relieved of the post of Begumganj Feed's managing director in a bid to give a false impression that the company is not associated with Ahsan Group, said the BB.
Huge amounts of money were transacted between the loan accounts of Begumganj Feed and AG Agro, and both firms used the same address in their trade licences.
AG Agro is the ultimate beneficiary of the loans taken against Begumganj Feed, stated the BB report.
According to the report, the loans the NRBC Bank gave to Begumganj Feed and AG Agro totalled Tk 301.35 crore, which was 56 percent of the bank's capital of Tk 540.43 crore as of June last year.
But the BB rules say no bank can sanction loans more than 35 percent of the bank's capital.
Despite several attempts, this correspondent couldn't reach NRBC Bank Managing Director Dewan Mujibur Rahman over his mobile phone. A text message was also sent to his mobile phone, seeking his comments. But there was no response.