• Saturday, November 29, 2014

Padma corruption probe laid to rest

Anti-graft body finds no graft conspiracy

M Rahman

In a controversial move, the Anti-Corruption Commission yesterday cleared all accused in the Padma bridge corruption conspiracy case though the World Bank gave the ACC primary evidence and a trial is on at a Canadian court in this connection.

"None has been found guilty. The commission will submit its final report to the court," ACC Chairman Mohammad Badiuzzaman said at a press briefing at the ACC headquarters in the capital.

The ACC also exonerated ex-communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and ex-state minister for foreign affairs Abul Hasan Chowdhury of alleged involvement in the graft conspiracy.

The ACC concludes its probe in the case at a time when two officials of Canadian firm SNC Lavalin are being tried for conspiring to bribe Abul Hossain, and several officials and individuals in Bangladesh to get the consultancy job for the project.

If the Canadian court finds these two SNC Lavalin officials guilty, it would imply that Abul Hossain and the others in Bangladesh were indeed involved in the corruption conspiracy.

ACC Commissioner Mohammad Shahabuddin, however, defended the move, saying there were “basic differences” between the two cases.

"The Canadian court is trying SNC Lavalin for setting up a fund with speed money to use it in third world countries to get work contracts.

"On the contrary, the ACC filed the case over the allegations of hatching a conspiracy to bribe government officials and individuals," he said.

In his reaction to the latest development, Transparency International Bangladesh Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the ACC has the scope for working again on the issue, depending on how the Canadian court proceeds.

"If the government wishes, it can initiate a judicial enquiry into the matter," he said in an interview with BBC Bangla.

The commission's latest stance contradicts its earlier one. The ACC had repeatedly stated that all suspects, including Abul Hossain, would be under close scrutiny, and none would be spared if found involved.  

In a letter to the ACC in 2013, the WB external panel of experts said, "The panel considered that the evidence suggested a criminal conspiracy that included the former minister of communications as the most senior official personally involved.

“His name and the indication of payment of 4% were subsequently included in a list of people that were to receive compensation for their alleged involvement in the conspiracy,” it said.

"The ultimate award of the contract likely required his [Syed Abul Hossain] approval. He met with SNC Lavalin [the firm that was awarded the consultancy job for the project] management at the request of the former secretary which was likely in furtherance of the negotiations for an illegal payment.

"The Panel considered that in order to achieve a complete and fair investigation, the former minister of communications should be named in the FIR [First Information Report] and placed under investigation," read the letter.

ACC Commissioner Shahabuddin, however, found the WB's stance intentional.

"To be very frank, we did not have [further] information [from the WB]. So, something was there ...," he told journalists at the ACC headquarters.

On December 17, 2012, the commission filed the Padma bridge graft conspiracy case with Banani Police Station, accusing ex-Bridges Division secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Superintendent Engineer of Bangladesh Bridge Authority Kazi Mohammad Ferdous, Executive Engineer of Roads and Highways Department Reaz Ahmed Zaber, and former local agent of SNC Lavalin Mohammad Mostofa and its ex-officials Mohammad Ismail, Ramesh Shah and Kevin Wales.

 The ACC, however, didn't include the names of Abul Hossain and Abul Hasan Chowdhury in the corruption case.

The commission had then said the duo's alleged involvement in the corruption conspiracy would be examined during the investigation in the case.

When journalists yesterday asked Badiuzzaman why the ACC filed the case if it didn't have enough information to support the case, he said the ACC lodged the lawsuit based on preliminary information provided by the WB.

Shahabuddin said the commission had hoped the WB and Canadian authorities would provide it with detailed information, but the ACC didn't get further information from the WB.

Asked why the commission closed its probe while the Canadian court is yet to deliver its verdict, he said, "We have obtained some transcripts from the Canadian court. They don't contain any information that can prove a conspiracy to bribe."

About the diary of Ramesh who allegedly mentioned that Abul Hossain, Mosharraf and others were to be given bribes, he said it was not a diary but a notepad seized by the Canadian police.

According to the case statement, Mosharraf dissolved the evaluation committee four times between January and June 2010 in efforts to award the consultancy job to the company of his choice.

In violation of the WB's Consulting Services Manual 2006, he became the head of the fourth evaluation committee. The manual states that all members of such a committee should have 10 years' experience in the relevant field, which the secretary lacked.

He along with the six accused hatched the conspiracy, says the case statement. They provided SNC Lavalin with secret information regarding the tender and finally managed to award the job to SNC Lavalin.

Abul Hossain held several meetings with SNC Lavalin officials, which were arranged by Abul Hasan.

On June 29, 2012, the WB cancelled its $1.2 billion funding for the bridge project, saying it had proof of a "corruption conspiracy" involving Bangladeshi officials, executives of a Canadian firm and some individuals.

 

Published: 12:01 am Thursday, September 04, 2014

Last modified: 10:06 pm Thursday, September 04, 2014

TAGS: World Bank Anti-Corruption Commission Padma bridge project controversial move ACC Chairman Mohammad Badiuzzaman Canadian court

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