The Customs Intelligence claimed to have detected that Crescent Group, in collusion with some officials of Janata Bank's Imamganj branch in Dhaka, laundered Tk 1,297.65 crore abroad against 657 fake export bills.
The Anti-Corruption Commission also found proof of embezzlement of Tk 1,303.69 crore by the Group from the bank branch, according to the findings of an ongoing ACC inquiry initiated in October last year.
The developments came after a Bangladesh Bank report revealed last year that the business entity “skimmed” at least Tk 765 crore in the name of exports from the JB and the Bangladesh Bank (BB) between January 2017 and February 2018.
The total amount of loans taken by the Crescent Group from the JB stood at Tk 3,443 crore in October last year, and the borrower defaulted on the loan pushing the state-owned bank to call for an auction to recover the money.
The Customs Intelligence said it found involvement of 15 officials from the JB and the Crescent Group while the ACC learnt about the links of 17 officials from the bank and the Group in the scam, according to the findings of the authorities.
Of the 15, 13 are bank officials, shows a 208-page probe report prepared by the Customs Intelligence.
The Daily Star is withholding their names as it could not reach them for comments.
An investigation by the central bank had found the involvement of Janata Bank Managing Director Abdus Salam Azad in the financial irregularity. However, the Customs Intelligence report did not mention his name.
Despite repeated attempts, The Daily Star could not contact Azad for his comments.
Both the probe reports of the BB and the Customs Intelligence cited the involvement of Mohammed Fakhrul Alam, the then manager of JB's Imamganj branch, in the alleged scam. Fakhrul is now the deputy managing director of Bangladesh Krishi Bank.
On the other hand, the ACC said its ongoing inquiry was yet to find whether Fakhrul and Azad were tied to the incident.
The Customs Intelligence and the ACC said they found out that MA Kader, chairman of Crescent Leather Products; Sultana Begum, director of Crescent Leather Products; Md Abdul Aziz, chairman of Crescent Leather Product's sister concern Rimex Footwear; and Litun Jahan Mira, managing director of Rimex Footwear, were involved in the money laundering.
FINDINGS OF CUSTOMS INTELLIGENCE, ACC
On January 1, the Customs Intelligence sent its investigation report to the chairman of the National Board of Revenue seeking NBR approval for filing a case against the accused under the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012.
On the other hand, a two-member ACC inquiry committee, led by Assistant Director Gulshan Anowar Pradhan, would submit a final report on the scam to the commission soon.
Talking to The Daily Star, ACC Director General (admin) Muhammad Munir Chowdhury said the inquiry was ongoing. “The real culprits will be brought to book,” he said.
The graft watchdog launched the inquiry after an allegation surfaced that Crescent Group Chairman MA Kader embezzled Tk 995 crore from the Janata Bank against 653 fake export bills.
The ACC formed an inquiry team which collected the central bank's investigation report as well as relevant documents from Azad and the Crescent Group and later examined them thoroughly.
The ACC findings were similar to those of the BB but interestingly, the names of Azad and Fakhrul have not been mentioned so far.
In 2015, the ACC had filed 56 cases in connection with the Tk 4500 crore BASIC Bank scam, but ironically Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu, the then bank chairman who plundered the institution with the help of other board of directors, was not named as an accused.
The anti-graft watchdog found that the Janata Bank didn't follow the necessary steps to verify the Hong Kong-based importers and also did not asses the report of international credit rating agencies over the buyers' financial capacity. As a result, repatriation of export proceeds remained at risk, said ACC findings.
Janata also bought export bills though the relevant Letters of Credit were not accepted by the importers, ACC sources said.
In a letter on October 4, 2017, the BB directed the Janata Bank not to buy any foreign bills without acceptance of the importer but bank officials purchased bills disobeying the instruction.
In the same case, the central bank investigation accused the Janata Bank managing director of not conveying the central bank's instruction to the respective branch about not buying foreign bills without acceptance of the importer.
The BB probe report said that the Janata MD had not notified its branches of this directive for around four months and by that time, the branch gave another Tk 334 crore to Crescent by illegally purchasing its export bills, taking the total to Tk 684 crore.
Fakhrul continued to purchase the unaccepted foreign bills even after making a commitment to the central bank through a letter, according to the BB investigation report.
“As a result, it is appeared that the bank officials, in collusion with the managing director, helped Crescent group take away money from the bank and all of them are involved in the irregularities,” said the report.
Of the total Tk 1,303 crore “embezzled” by the Crescent Group from the JB, Tk 765 crore was skimmed between January 2017 and February 2018.
MD Abdus Salam was the managing director of the bank from October 2014 to October 2017, while the incumbent MD took office in December 2017.
None of them has been made accountable for the scam.
Contacted, Crescent Leather Products Chairman Kader denied that money was laundered from the JB branch and claimed that the entire amount remained invested in the country.
Asked about the export proceeds which were not repatriated, he said negotiations were underway with the buyers to bring back the money.