Islami Bank’s loan scams were not unknown to policymakers

Says PRI Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur
Islami Bank loan scams

Information about S Alam Group has bought a bank with money from another lender and taken controlling stakes in other banks is surfacing now, but people in the banking sector and involved in economic policy-making knew about the developments, said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh.

The noted economist made the comments while speaking to The Daily Star yesterday about the influential group's borrowing from several banks.

"So much borrowing by one group and the ownership of several banks by the group is a matter of concern for the country's banking sector and the economy."

A High Court bench on December 4 directed the authorities to probe the alleged loan scams in Islami Bank Bangladesh Ltd (IBBL), Social Islami Bank Ltd (SIBL) and First Security Islami Bank.

Mohammed Saiful Alam, chairman of S Alam Group, is the chairman of First Security Islami Bank while people linked with the influential businessman currently control IBBL and SIBL.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Bangladesh Bank, the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU), and the Criminal Investigation Department of Police were asked to submit probe reports to the court by April 5.

The bench asked S Alam Group to come up with explanations on the reports that it took Tk 30,000 crore from IBBL and to place relevant documents in this regard before the court.

And Mansur said before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, a monetary policy meeting was going on with 15 to 20 participants, including Bangladesh Bank's governor.

In the meeting, he said that S Alam Group took loans of about Tk 80,000 crore in its own name and under different names.

"It has ownership in so many banks. This is a big challenge for the banking sector," Mansur recalled.

"At that time, I jokingly told the governor to make arrangements for keeping an ambulance standby for the S Alam Group owner round the clock so that he can be taken to the hospital quickly if he suddenly becomes ill seriously in order to keep him alive. Otherwise, the banking sector will collapse as soon as he dies."

"The banking sector can be destroyed by the activities of one person. The governor listened and remained silent. He said nothing about it," Mansur added.

According to the economist, the common people are now getting to know that S Alam Group has taken on loans of Tk 30,000 crore, Tk 80,000 crore or Tk 100,000 crore.

"The concerned banks, the Bangladesh Bank, and even the finance ministry were aware of the matter. But everyone remained silent. No one performed their duty."

Mansur, also the chairman of Brac Bank, said in 2019, some Singapore-based newspapers reported that S Alam Group purchased multiple hotels in the city-state spending millions of dollars.

"According to some reliable sources, the group has three hotels in Singapore and bought the Hyatt Hotel in Singapore two weeks ago. It is also heard that it has a shopping mall in Singapore. The hotels and shopping malls will be worth hundreds of millions of dollars."

When these facts were known or allegations were made against the group, the matter should have been brought under investigation, said the former official of the International Monetary Fund. 

"Bangladesh needed to know whether the allegations are true or untrue."

"Ever since the allegations were made against S Alam Group, the government should have investigated them. The government will have to investigate the allegations against S Alam Group and take action, if necessary."

There are no legal scopes to take money abroad from Bangladesh, Mansur added.

"But it takes $150 million to $200 million to buy a hotel. How did they get that money in Singapore? These things would have come out after investigation. But no investigation was done then. Now it is essential to investigate."

Mansur urged the BFIU and the ACC to investigate the matter.

In a recent advertisement in newspapers, IBBL said that it did not give any fake loans and all the loans were given in accordance with rules.

"The truth should be found out by carrying out probes by a third party. None of the information and statements of the Islamic Bank authorities are acceptable."