Import-export firm AVIATE International was in desperate need of Tk 15 crore loans since the start of 2012 to keep its business afloat.
Its owner somehow came to know that Sheikh Shariar Panna, younger brother of the then BASIC Bank chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu, could arrange a quick loan for the firm.
Sirajul Amin, elder son of AVIATE's owner Nurul Amin, then contacted Panna through some middlemen, who assured him of managing loans double the amount the firm needed.
On May 25, 2012, Panna had BASIC Bank's Bashundhara branch approve a loan of Tk 8.3 crore for the firm, and demanded Tk 4.8 crore in “consultancy fees” -- 16 percent of the promised loans of Tk 30 crore.
On Panna's assurance that he would soon arrange the rest of the amount in loans, AVIATE gave him Tk 4.8 crore in “consultancy fees” in 13 pay orders and cheques.
But the firm never got the remaining amount, and fell into a deep crisis. It now has to count interests on the Tk 8.3 crore loan, though it actually got Tk 3.5 crore.
This was how Panna cheated AVIATE after his elder brother Bacchu became BASIC Bank chairman in September 2009, show copies of pay orders and cheques that AVIATE gave Panna.
Panna used his clout to have loan proposals approved at BASIC Bank's four branches in Motijheel, Shantinagar, Dilkusha and Gulshan. His influence over the state-run bank continued until mid-2013 when Bangladesh Bank unearthed huge loan scams in the bank and imposed restrictions on it, said BASIC Bank officials.
In its inspection, the BB found irregularities in approving loans of around Tk 4,500 crore in the four branches between December 2009 and November 2012.
Majority of the loans were approved by the then chairman Bacchu against forged documents without proper scrutiny and collateral. Also, the bank gave loans to phantom companies and approved loans to clients soon after they had opened accounts.
BB reports mentioned that the bank board had sanctioned loans before the branches concerned sent the proposals to the head office.
“Nobody dared to reject proposals that involved Panna. In fact, some officials were competing with each other to serve him first,” said a senior BASIC bank official on condition of anonymity.
Some BASIC Bank officials said Panna, who owns a computer accessories shop in the capital, maintained a group of customers through some middlemen, took upfront fees, helped them get loans with forged papers and pocketed huge sums.
Many of the clients are now in deep financial crisis, as they have to pay interests on amounts much higher than they had actually got.
“Panna took at least 15-20 percent commission on the loans he had arranged. It went up to 50 percent when he helped customers get inflated loans with fake documents,” said another senior BASIC Bank official, who saw the issues closely between 2009 and 2013.
In most cases, he took cash in “consultancy fees” from borrowers, while in some cases he took money in pay orders against his name and his business concern BM Computers Technology.
The Daily Star has obtained some documents on the transactions made through the BASIC Bank's Gulshan and Shantinagar branches between January 1, 2011, and November 18, 2012.
In December 2013, Amin lodged complaints with chairmen of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Board of Revenue, the governor of Bangladesh Bank, ex-chairman of BASIC Bank and BASIC Bank branch manager concerned, seeking remedy for fraud. But the authorities are yet to take any step in this regard.
In his letter of complaint, AVIATE owner Nurul Amin said, “When I requested Panna to return my money [Tk 4.8 crore], he said it was given to the bank chairman [his brother Bacchu]. It wasn't possible for him to return the money.”
“Do whatever you want. Nothing will happen to me,” Amin quoted Panna as saying.
AVIATE was not the only firm conned by Panna.
He also promised Aristocrat Agro Ltd loans of Tk 40 crore to help it set up an automatic rice mill in Rangpur.
The firm gave Panna “consultancy fees” of Tk 10 crore, but it got Tk 38 crore in loans from BASIC Bank's Karwan Bazar branch.
On paying Panna for arranging loans, one of the firm owners said, “This was the usual way of getting loans from BASIC Bank.” The firm spent Tk 92 crore on the factory, but it is now struggling to run it for lack of working capital.
Panna also had BASIC Bank's Shantinagar branch approved Tk 30-crore loans for BD Pipes and Power Ltd. The company gave Panna and his computer firm Tk 4.4 crore in 12 pay orders between 2011 and 2012. Of the amount, Tk 50 lakh was paid in two pay orders against his name.
He also took more than Tk 3 crore in six pay orders from Akhwan Trade International that got Tk 8.5 crore in loans.
One of the Akhwan owners said, “We are in serious trouble. Panna took a huge amount of money, but he didn't keep his promise to arrange further loans for our company.”
Panna also took Tk 10 crore from Jamuna Agro Chemical after arranging a loan of Tk 47 crore for it.
He also pocketed crores of taka from several clients whom he helped get loans from BASIC bank's Gulshan branch between 2011 and 2012.
He took “consultancy fees” of Tk 60 lakh in two pay orders from B/S Trading in January 2012 for arranging loans. The firm also gave Panna's BM Computers Tk 45 lakh in pay orders in April that year.
In June 2012, Panna took Tk 1.5 crore from Angel Agro Feed Ltd in two pay orders for helping it get loans.
“He [Panna] has put us in deep trouble. We are yet to recover from it,” said one of the owners of Angel Agro Feed Ltd.
The Daily Star repeatedly tried to reach Panna and Bacchu on their cell phones, but found those switched off. Later, this correspondent went to Panna's BM Computers office at Nahar Plaza opposite Eastern Plaza on Sonargaon Road.
“He [Panna] has not come here after the media reports on BASIC Bank scams,” said a senior employee there, on condition of anonymity.
In several inspection reports, the BB mentioned Bacchu's involvement in the loan scams.
In July last year, Bacchu resigned from the bank on Bangladesh Bank's advice.
The central bank then sent the scam case to the ACC for further investigation.
In June this year, Finance Minister AMA Muhith raised the BASIC bank issue in the budget session of parliament.
After a meeting with BASIC Bank officials early this month, the minister told journalists that the loan scam was no less than robbery.
“Massive embezzlement took place in BASIC Bank. Its former chairman Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu was behind it.”
Muhith further said there was ample evidence of Bacchu's wrongdoing, and it would be easy to take action against him.