A syndicate in Biman had been blocking the sale of tickets online and channeling those to the black market with the help of some unscrupulous travel agents, a civil aviation ministry probe revealed.
This made online tickets elusive and passengers had to buy them from rogue travel agents at a premium.
The syndicate got Tk 25 lakh a day as its cut and it has been at it for several years, the investigation exposed.
“The ticket selling process of Biman is not transparent. A common allegation of passengers is that when they go to buy Biman tickets, they are told that tickets are not available. But we have found that in many cases the particular flight left the airport with many empty seats. This happened absolutely due to the corruption and irregularities in selling tickets,” Mohibul Haque, secretary to the civil aviation ministry, told this paper.
Secretary Mohibul said, “The fact is the Biman syndicate sells tickets to some specific travel agents in exchange for commission. Finding no tickets, passengers were forced to buy tickets from those travel agents at high prices.”
The investigation found that Ashraful Islam, director (marketing and sales) and Shafiqul Islam, deputy general manager (commercial) of Biman, were among those involved. They have been made officers on special duty (OSD, a post deemed a punishment) on April 2 after Biman Board intervened.
The ministry on March 24 held a meeting on corruption and irregularities in ticket selling. Top Biman officials concerned, including Ashraful, were present at the meeting held at the ministry.
In the meeting, Ashraful was accused of being involved in the irregularities and he denied it, at first. After evidence against him was produced, he argued that they blocked ticket sales to ensure VIPs were able to get tickets to destinations in the Middle East, said a top official of the ministry who was present in the meeting.
State Minister for Civil Aviation Mahbub Ali and the civil aviation secretary in the meeting said Ashraful had no authority to block ticket sales.
The Daily Star could not reach Ashraful and Shafiqul for comments. Their phones were found switched off.
Secretary Mohibul said the ministry sent the resolution of the meeting to the Biman Board. The board then asked Biman to make Ashraful and Shafiqul OSDs.
Keeping all Biman tickets open to online sale and special apps to sell tickets were also recommended in the resolution.
The Biman Board during its meeting in Balaka on April 2 also formed a three-member probe body to further investigate the ticket scam.
The body was asked to identify all members of the syndicate -- Biman employees and officials and travel agents -- and take necessary actions against them.
The ministry's probe found that all tickets of Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur flights between December 25 and December 31 last year were blocked online but they were sold by one travel agency. The agency then paid Biman officials in the syndicate, sources involved in the probe said.
Biman spread its wings in 1972. In the past, irregularities and corruption plagued the national flag carrier and it incurred heavy losses.
The army-backed caretaker government in 2007 turned Biman into a public company.
Last year, Biman lost around Tk 201.47 crore but in the previous three years, it made profits.
Biman serves 15 international and seven domestic destinations with its fleet of 13 aircraft. Seven of the planes are on lease.