Sonali Bank is now under fresh pressure to honour the accepted bills of Hall-Mark Group amounting to Tk 1,316 crore, after the Anti-Corruption Commission decided not to investigate the transactions for anomalies.
The state-owned bank has been putting off from paying other banks for the bills for almost two years now, as it waited on the results of ACC probe to be certain that no fraud was involved.
But ACC's latest move means Sonali has no other option but to make payment to the 26 banks.
“ACC has decided not to investigate the non-funded portion of
the Hall-Mark scam. The issue can now be deemed settled,” the anticorruption watchdog said in a letter to Sonali last week.
Of the Tk 3,547 crore embezzled by Hall-Mark Group between 2010 and 2012, Tk 1,709 crore was non-funded, which comprised mainly letters of credit.
Hall-Mark took out Tk 1,316 crore from other banks by presenting the letters of credit issued by Sonali, and as per law, Sonali will have to reimburse them upon presentation of the accepted bills.
After the scam came to light in the latter part of 2012, Sonali stopped paying against any of Hall-Mark's bills, a move which has dragged the state-owned bank into a cold war with the 26 banks.
The remaining Tk 393 crore was from other Sonali branches, which it settled internally.
“I think the investigation into Hall-Mark's non-funded loans does not fall under ACC's jurisdiction as no amount of money was actually disbursed by Sonali,” Mohammad Badiuzzaman, chairman of ACC, told The Daily Star.
He said that Sonali will have to conduct the investigation with the help of Bangladesh Bank.
Pradip Kumar Dutta, managing director of Sonali Bank, told The Daily Star that they will take a decision on the matter after discussing it in the board meeting.
Meanwhile, the central bank in a letter asked Sonali to clarify its position about the payment to other banks against the accepted bills.
“We have sought one month's time from the central bank in this regard,” Dutta said.
However, Zaid Bakht, a member of the Sonali board, said the bank will make payment for the accepted bills after examining them on a case-by-case basis.
The bank found that many of the accepted bills pertained to fraud, and Bakht said the other banks had the responsibility to do due diligence before giving acceptance, which they neglected.
Sonali will now have to seek advice from the finance ministry and Bangladesh Bank before making payment for those bills, he added.
Of the total of 2,342 bills presented, Sonali, however, has already decided to honour 586 of them, which amount to Tk 150 crore.