In a bid to make a quick buck cashing in on the pandemic, several health officials purchased more than 20,000 fake N95 masks and supplied those to 10 hospitals for staffers treating Covid-19 patients.
But their scam came to light, thanks to some doctors at the hospitals, who questioned the authenticity of the masks and refused to use them.
These officials of the state-run Central Medical Stores Depot (CMSD) didn't bother to follow any of the procedures for checking the quality of the products, their specifications and fixing their prices, found investigators.
Yesterday, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed a graft case against Abdur Razzaq, chairman of medical equipment supplier JMI Hospital Requisite MFG Ltd, and six health officials, including Dr Md Jakir Hossain Khan, the then CMSD deputy director.
Jakir has recently been made superintendent of Cox's Bazar General Hospital.
The other accused are CMSD Assistant Director Dr Md Shahjahan Sarkar, Chief Coordinator and Desk Officer Dr Mohammad Ziaul Haque, Desk Officer Dr Sabbir Ahmed, Store Officer Kabir Ahmed and Senior Storekeeper Mohammad Yusuf Fakir.
"It was their first attempt to supply locally manufactured respirators as N95 masks. Had they become successful, they would have supplied more fake N95 masks," an investigation officer of the ACC told this newspaper, seeking anonymity.
There have also been allegations that the accused health officials made huge amounts of money illegally, the official said but declined to give details.
Talking to journalists yesterday, ACC Secretary Dilwar Bakth said they will enquire into the assets of the accused officials.
Hours after Razzaq's arrest in the capital, ACC Deputy Director Mohammad Nurul Huda, the plaintiff of the case, produced him before the Senior Special Judge's Court and sought his five-day remand.
Judge KM Emrul Kayesh granted the remand and sent him to jail.
According to the case statement, the government allocated Tk 50 crore to the CMSD on March 18 for buying surgical and medical equipment, and chemical reagent for combatting Covid-19.
The Directorate General of Health Services prepared a demand order for monthly supply of respirators, PPEs, and medical equipment.
In its letter to the CMSD, the DGHS sought 135,840 N95 masks a month for doctors, nurses and staffers at hospitals across the country.
Analysing documents, the ACC found that 10 desks, each headed by a desk officer, look after the procurement activities at the CMSD, and Ziaul Haque was tasked with monitoring those.
On March 23, the then CMSD director, Brig Gen Mohammad Shahidullah, approved the contract in favour of JMI Hospital Requisite for supplying 50 lakh pieces of face masks, including N95 masks.
JMI Hospital Requisite supplied the CMSD with 9,600 pieces of "N95 face mask" on March 27, and another 11,010 pieces of "N95 masks" on March 31 in big and small boxes.
"JMI Face Mask" were written on the big boxes and "N95 Face Masks" on the small boxes. However, in the delivery slips, all masks were described as "Face Mask (adult) N95". These masks did not contain any seal from any authorised medical organisation, reads the FIR.
CMSD Senior Storekeeper Yusuf received the masks. Later, Shahidullah who died from Covid-19 a couple of months ago, Jakir, Shahjahan, Sabbir and Kabir signed the receipts.
"A survey committee usually receives products after examining their authenticity. But no checking was done in this case," mentions the FIR.
"Misusing power, the accused colluded with each other to gain or give benefits to suppliers and received the fake N95 masks."
These fake masks were then supplied to 10 hospitals, putting at risk the lives of doctors, nurses and other staffers treating Covid-19 patients, it mentioned.
On March 30, 300 masks were delivered to Mugda General Hospital in the capital. The doctors there became suspicious about the authenticity of the masks as those didn't carry seals of any authorised medical organisation.
Later, Shahid Md Sadiqul Islam, the director of the hospital, requested the DGHS director general to confirm the authenticity of the masks.
Besides, Khulna Medical College Hospital Director Dr Monjur Morshed refused to receive these sub-standard masks.