Setting a rare example, Atiur Rahman stepped down as Bangladesh Bank governor yesterday amid strong criticism over his handling of the $101 million cyber theft.
Following huge pressure from the government, Atiur tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the morning.
“It's a bold decision. It will remain a rare example of moral strength and courage,” the PM said in her reaction.
The events that followed Atiur's resignation shook the regulators in the financial sector. Within hours, six other central bank officials found their jobs on the line, as the government expanded its mission to clean up the mess.
Meanwhile at the finance ministry, Banking Secretary M Aslam Alam lost his portfolio and
was made an officer on special duty (OSD).
The government also decided to cancel the contracts of two BB deputy governors --Md Abul Quasem and Nazneen Sultana -- for their failure to prevent the cyber theft from the BB account with the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
A finance ministry official said the ministry would soon ask the BB to remove its two executive directors and two general managers.
But the names of the central bank officials couldn't be known immediately.
Asked about the decision to remove the four BB officials, Finance Minister AMA Muhith told reporters that he was unaware of it.
But he confirmed that the contracts of the two deputy governors would be terminated.
Deputy Governor Nazneen, however, was not working at the central bank when the cyber heist took place. Her stint as deputy governor ended on January 20, and she was reappointed for the second term on February 8.
Asked why Aslam was made an OSD, Muhith didn't mention any reasons.
“Now, he [Aslam] is going to another ministry,” said the minister at the National Economic Council after a meeting with the representatives from different NGOs on the upcoming budget.
A number of finance ministry officials said Aslam was made an OSD as the government thinks he had failed to discharge his duties properly.
Earlier in the day, Atiur desperately sought an appointment with Hasina and waited hours for a response from the Prime Minister's Office. “I am waiting for her [Hasina] call,” he told a reporter.
But the call never came and Atiur made the final decision -- “to leave with dignity”. He broke the news to a small group of reporters at his official residence in Gulshan and the story spread far and wide.
At the other end, Muhith, who openly criticised Atiur for the “incompetent handling” of the cyber heist, scheduled a press conference apparently to announce the governor's resignation plan.
But his plan did not get through as Atiur drove straight to the PMO to turn in his resignation letter to Hasina. In doing so, he bypassed Muhith. The press conference by Muhith was not held.
Atiur said he wanted to submit the resignation letter to the PM in person and brief her about the entire situation.
On Monday night, Atiur met Muhith at the latter's official residence on Mintoo Road in the capital. Muhith told Atiur to resign without any delay, and that he didn't need to wait to meet the PM, said sources at the finance ministry and the BB.
The premier accepted Atiur's resignation, and lauded his decision as a rare example of courage and honesty, according to state-run BSS.
During Atiur's stint as governor, the BB's reserves rose to a record high and the banking services expanded, noted the PM.
She said action would be taken against the BB officials responsible for the heist.
Atiur didn't talk to the media after coming out of the PMO in the morning.
Later in the afternoon, he spoke to reporters at his official residence in Gulshan.
Atiur said he opted to quit out of moral responsibility. “I did not want the country and the prime minister to face any image crisis.”
He said he is not a “technical” person and was “puzzled" by the theft.
Atiur said the BB took some time to understand the situation. “But more importantly, I tried to save what was left in the reserves and prevent any further damage.”
He demanded trial of the culprits -- both locals and foreigners -- following investigations.
Atiur drew flak from government high-ups and a number of ruling party leaders for keeping the government in the dark about the cyber theft.
The government decided to make changes in the top BB management for two reasons: the central bank's failure to inform the government immediately (the PM was informed about it on March 1 and Muhith on March 8), and for the sake of a fair probe, said finance ministry sources.
“Bangladesh Bank had the audacity not to inform me,” Muhith said in a public show of anger on Monday.
Countering the criticism, Atiur said: “If I am at fault, they can take action against me, against Bangladesh Bank. But they cannot insult me in public.”
The government thinks that the heist took place because of management failure in the payment system and the IT department.
The government has formed a three-member committee, headed by former BB governor Mohammed Farashuddin, to probe the cyber theft.
If the just-formed committee and the new BB management recommend taking action against any BB official, the government would act accordingly, they said.
Meanwhile, the BB filed a case over the cyber heist, accusing several unknown persons.
Zubair Bin Huda, joint director of BB's accounts and budgeting department, lodged the lawsuit with Motijheel Police Station under the Money Laundering Prevention Act and the ICT Act.