The health services division of the health ministry knew that Regent Hospital's licence had expired years ago but it still went ahead and signed a deal in early March for treating Covid-19 patients there.
The division in its Tuesday's circular to close the hospital's Uttara and Mirpur branches for issuing fake test reports said that the hospital did not renew its licence despite several reminders.
Sources said the health minister and government high-ups was present during the ceremony for signing the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Regent Hospital to turn it into a dedicated Covid-19 hospital.
But now the ministry is asking the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) to explain as to why the contract was signed when the hospital's licence had expired in 2014.
Abdul Mannan, secretary of health service division, told The Daily Star last night, "We have sent a letter to the DGHS asking for their explanation about signing the deal with the hospital when the licence had expired … and who signed the contract? Let's see what explanation they give us. We will decide after that."
Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the DGHS, declined to comment.
"I have stopped talking to journalists directly. We have assigned two of our officials to talk to journalists," he told this newspaper yesterday evening.
Aminul Hasan, director of hospitals and clinics at the DGHS, said, "We did it after the high ups from the ministry asked me to allow Regent Hospital. We just executed the order."
He claimed that they had no option but to sign the contract with the hospital as initially they struggled to arrange treatment facilities for Covid-19 patients.
"Only Sazeda Foundation and Regent Hospital authorities came forward at that time," he said.
He said they had signed the agreement on the condition that "Regent Hospital will renew its licence as soon as possible".
Asked about actions they had taken, he said, "We issued two letters asking them to renew their licence. The first letter was sent on April 1 and the second one in May. We also warned them about charging extra [for the test] last month [June]. But they paid no heed."
Speaking on the issue, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said it was her government that unearthed the irregularities and arrested the suspects.
"We would have been happy, had a parliament member informed us in advance about the irregularities in this matter. Nobody informed … we, the government found the irregularities and took appropriate actions. Rab went there and took proper measures after identifying the persons responsible," she said.
On Monday, the mobile court of Rab, led by its Executive Magistrate Sarwoer Alam, raided Regent Hospital's Uttara branch and sealed it off in connection with issuing fake Covid-19 test certificates and collecting money from patients.
The same team sealed off the hospital's Mirpur branch yesterday.
The hospital had no permission to run RT-PCR tests.
Inspector Zulhas Mia of Rab-1 filed a case against Regent Group Chairman Md Shahed and 16 others with Uttara West Police Station on Tuesday night.
The other accused include Regent's Managing Director Masud Parvez; its Project Officer Rakibul Islam; Human Resources Officer Amit Banik; IT officers Mahbub, Shaikat, Palash; health technologists Ahsan Habib and Hatim Ali.
The chairman, managing director and seven others are on the run. Rab arrested eight staffers during their drive in Uttara branch on Monday.
A virtual court in Dhaka yesterday placed seven of the officials and employees on a five-day remand each.
"SHAHED A FRAUDSTER"
Whenever Md Shahed met someone, he introduced himself as Shahed Karim or sometimes Karim, sometimes as a major of the army or sometimes lieutenant colonel or sometimes colonel, said Rab's Intelligence Chief Lt Col Sarwar-Bin-Quasem at a press briefing at its headquarter in Uttara yesterday.
Shahed was a fraud and master of bluffs. He cheated others of a huge amount of money.
"We came to know that he had a multi-level marketing business where he embezzled a lot of money from people. Later, he landed in jail. After serving two years, he came out in 2011. He didn't stop. He continued with his fraudulence.
"He had photos with many high-ups in Bangladesh. He used the pictures as leverage and to get benefits and favours from others," he said.
Asked about media reports of Shahed being a member of the Awami League's foreign affairs sub-committee, he said, "Fraudsters don't have any political identity. They use names as leverage. He gave fake identities at different times. He has actually no political identity."
COMPUTER OPERATORS MADE COVID-19 REPORTS
Computer operators at Regent Hospital used to make fake Covid-19 certificates, Rab said, adding that Shahed himself forced his employees to do so.
They found around 4,500 Covid-19 test reports out of the 10,000 so-called tests the hospital had done. The hospital gave patients 5,500 reports without testing. The government accredited laboratories said that they didn't make the 4,500 reports Rab found.
Rab said that they first started investigating the quick test reports after sample collection from home.
"… what we got is really astonishing … something that we did not expect," he said.
For the first test, they took Tk 3,500-4,000. If tested positive, he or she would come for the next test. They charged Tk 1,000-1,500 for the second.
Shahed made around Tk two to three crore illegally in the last three months, Rab said. But he didn't even pay many of his staffers salaries, he added.
"We will investigate where this money went. We may file a money laundering case in this connection," said Sarwar.
[Muntakim Saad contributed to this report]