Apparel exporters fall prey to Tk 600cr fraud

Bangladeshi garment exporters have fallen victim to fraudulence recently, with some 26 companies apparently manufacturing goods worth around Tk 600 crore for a non-existent British company.

Two local garment buying houses, Vanguard and ASM Apparels Ltd, placed the work orders on behalf of the “importer”, Y&X, saying that the latter is owned by a Bangladeshi-born British citizen named Manjur Billah.

The duo offered higher prices, on condition that the raw materials have to be bought from select textile factories in China.

The deception came to light after the first batch of consignments were left unclaimed for over one month at a UK port. The Daily Star could not reach anyone from the two accused buying houses.

“It is a big accident for our company as we never faced such fraudulence in our 20 years' garment business,” said a general manager of one of the victim export-oriented garment factory.

“We have shipped garment items worth Tk 50 crore,” he told The Daily Star asking not to be named fearing that it would tarnish his company's reputation.

A few consignments are in the factory and some are on the way to the UK port and some have already reached the UK, he said.

The official also said his company started shipping the goods, such as denim shirts and trousers, in the last week of September and continued to do so in the first week of October.

The company is part of a conglomerate which annually exports $80 million worth garment items.

The group has already filed a case with Badda Police Station 20 days ago. Arrests are yet to be made as the accused are allegedly absconding.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has been trying to find a solution with 26 garment exporters having complained of being cheated by the two buying houses.

Another 22 small Bangladeshi garment exporters suffered a similar fate in 2012 after Indian kidswear retailer Lilliput failed to pay $5 million with the excuse of becoming bankrupt. The goods had been sent without letters of credit (LCs).

“The number of victims might increase further as many of the affected factories are yet to lodge complaints with the BGMEA,” said Mohammed Nasir, vice-president of the garment makers' platform.

“The BGMEA has already started the initiative to recover the money. We will send letters to the Bangladesh embassy in the UK seeking information about the company and for lobbying with the British government for recovering payments for the exporters,” he said.

If the goods are not received, the exporters will be asked to bring those back and go for stock lot sales in Bangladesh, he said, adding that if the exporters pay the freighters, they would bring the goods back.

If the garment exporters do not get their money on time, the Chinese textile millers will also be affected as the garment makers would not be able to pay them, Nasir said.

KI Hossain, president of Bangladesh Garment Buying House Association, said the accused two buying houses were not their members.

A total of 8.5 million pieces of garment items were supposed to be shipped in favour of Y&X, he said. Some of the smaller factories affected have already started to feel the brunt of the fraudulence, he said.

Mahmud Hasan Khan, another vice-president of BGMEA, said it was not exporters but importers who usually insured the goods.  In the case of the 26, it is not clear whether the goods were insured. However, the goods were shipped following procedures of LCs.

“If the goods are insured, by any chance, the exporters will get the money from the insurance company. But we have to check further,” said Khan.

If, say, Y&X does exist but has gone into hiding on going bankrupt, the exporters will face further delays as the British court will have to declare the company bankrupt and sell its assets to repay the Bangladeshi exporters, he said. Talking to The Daily Star, an official of state-owned Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau said none had gone to their office to lodge complaints.

“If any exporter comes and complains to us, we will go for finding a solution,” the official said asking not to be named. The UK is the third largest export destinations for Bangladesh after the US and Germany.

Bangladesh exported garment goods worth $3.30 billion to the UK in 2016-17, which was $3.52 billion in 2015-16 and $2.9 billion in the fiscal 2014-15, according to Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau. Garments make up nearly 90 percent of Bangladeshi exports to the UK.


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